CANCER
November 27, 2017

Cancer As a Numbers Game

Nearly half of all cancers are the result of risk factors that we can control.

Cancer is a diagnosis no one wants to receive, but you can lower your chances of hearing that earth-shattering word from your doctor. Four out of 10 cancers are associated with “modifiable” risk factors that are within your control, according to a new study from The American Cancer Society.

These risk factors include: smoking; exposure to secondhand smoke; overweight and obesity; alcohol consumption; the amount of red and processed meats you eat; a low intake of fruits, vegetables, dietary fiber and calcium; a sedentary lifestyle; exposure to ultraviolet light; and six infections associated with cancer.

There is no guarantee that you won’t develop some form of cancer, but since many of the cancer prevention guidelines can also ward off other chronic diseases, improving what you can about your way of life is a smart move for anyone.

Approximately 42 percent of all cancer cases and 45 percent of deaths from cancer could be attributed to one or more modifiable risk factors, the researchers found when they analyzed the data. The greatest percentage of cancer cases and deaths was associated with smoking cigarettes. Excess body weight was second, followed by alcohol consumption, exposure to ultraviolet light and physical inactivity. Low intake of fruits and vegetables, as well as HPV infection followed.

Lung cancer and colorectal cancer had the most cancer cases and deaths attributable to modifiable risk factors, while the proportion of cases linked to the evaluated risk factors were highest for lung, liver, colorectal and breast cancers.

When the researchers combined excess body weight, alcohol intake, poor eating habits and lack of physical activity, and looked at their collective impact, 14 percent of all cancers in men and 22 percent in women were due to this quadruplet of risk factors.

Other findings from the study were:

  • Smoking was associated with 82 percent of lung cancers, 74 percent of throat cancers, 50 percent of esophageal cancers and 47 percent of bladder cancers.
  • Excess body weight accounted for 60 percent of uterine cancers, 34 percent of liver cancers, 11 percent of breast cancers in women, and 5 percent of colorectal cancers.
  • Alcohol intake was associated with nearly half of mouth and throat cancers in men and 27 percent in women, 25 percent of liver cancers in men and 12 percent in women, 17 percent of colorectal cancers in men and 3 percent in women, and 16 percent of breast cancers in women.
  • Ultra violet radiation accounted for 96 percent of melanomas of the skin in men and 94 percent in women.
  • Physical inactivity was associated with 27 percent of uterine cancers, 16 percent of colorectal cancers, and 4 percent of female breast cancers.
  • Low intake of fruits and vegetables was associated with 18 percent of mouth and throat cancers, 17 percent of laryngeal cancers and 9 percent of lung cancers.
  • Red and processed meat consumption accounted for 5 percent and 8 percent of colorectal cancers, respectively. Low dietary fiber accounted for 10 percent of colorectal cancer cases, and low dietary calcium was associated with 5 percent of cases.
  • Among the American Cancer Society’s recommendations for cancer prevention are lifestyle modifications such as achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet centered around plant foods, adopting a physically active lifestyle and limiting how much alcohol you drink.

    This study emphasizes the importance of an overall healthy lifestyle to reduce your risk of cancer. Even then, there is no guarantee that you won’t develop some form of cancer, but since many of the cancer prevention guidelines can also ward off other chronic diseases, improving what you can about your way of life is a smart move for anyone. So, cut down on red meat, walk a little more, choose whole grain bread and, if you smoke, look into the nicotine patch or other ways to quit smoking.

    The study is published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.

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