From Our 2011 Archives

Simple Steps to Prevent Common Cancers

Report Suggests That Healthy Diet and Physical Fitness Can Prevent Many Cancer Cases

By Bill Hendrick
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Laura J. Martin, MD

Feb. 3, 2011 -- About a third of some of the most common forms of cancer could be prevented through healthy diet, physical fitness, and limiting alcohol intake, the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund say in a new report.

About 7.6 million people die from cancer every year worldwide, and 12.7 million new cases are diagnosed. According to the Union for International Cancer Control, a third of cancer cases could be cured through early diagnosis and treatment and 30% to 40% could be prevented.

About 340,000 cases of cancer could be prevented annually in the U.S. if more people started eating a varied and healthy diet, started a regimen of physical activity, limited alcohol intake, and maintained a healthy weight, the new report says.

Exercise Reduces Cancer Risk

"Physical activity is recommended for people of all ages as a means to reduce risks for certain types of cancers and other non-communicable diseases," says Tim Armstrong, MD, of the World Health Organization, says in a news release. "In order to improve their health and prevent several diseases, adults should do at least 150 minutes moderate physical activity throughout the week. This can be achieved by simply walking 30 minutes fives times per week or by cycling to work daily."

To reduce cancer risk, people also should quit smoking, avoid excessive sun exposure, and protect themselves against cancer-causing infections.

Tim Byers, MD, MPH, of the Colorado School of Public Health, says scientists urge Americans "to make the simple lifestyle changes of eating healthy food, getting regular physical activity, and maintaining a healthy weight to reduce cancer risk."

The World Cancer Declaration outlines 11 targets it says could be achieved by 2020 to fight cancer. These goals include: significant drops in global tobacco use, obesity, and alcohol intake; universal vaccination programs for hepatitis B and human papilloma virus (HPV); universal availability of effective pain medication; and efforts to dispel misconceptions about cancer.

The health organizations say in a detailed report that the most common cancers in the U.S. and Britain are of the breast, colon/rectum, lung, and prostate.

Cancer Prevention Steps

The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends the following cancer-prevention steps.

  • Limit consumption of calorie-dense foods, particularly processed foods high in added sugar, low in fiber, or high in fat.
  • Avoid sugary drinks.
  • Eat more of a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans.
  • Limit consumption of red meats such as beef, pork, and lamb, and avoid processed meats.
  • Limit consumption of salty foods and foods processed with sodium.
  • Dietary supplements for lowering cancer risk are not recommended.
  • Be as lean as possible without becoming underweight.
  • Be physically active for 30 minutes or more every day.

SOURCE: News release, Union for International Cancer Control.

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