2/04/11 Washington, D.C. – American Institute for Cancer Research – Scientists estimate about a third of the most common cancers could be prevented through healthy diets, being physically active and maintaining a healthy weight. This year, World Cancer Day (February 4) focuses on cancer prevention.
We asked American Institute for Cancer Research’s Director of Research Susan Higginbotham, PhD, RD, to explain what the science says about how you can start lowering your cancer risk.
It seems like we’re always reading about new study in which a certain food or food substance either reduces or increases our cancer risk. It can get confusing – so much so that many Americans throw up their hands.
That’s why AICR conducted the biggest-ever review of the scientific evidence, and then distilled thousands of studies worth of research on the subject of diet, weight, physical activity and cancer into 10 recommendations that people can incorporate into their daily lives.
Of course, when it comes to cancer, there are no guarantees. But these ten recommendations represent the best advice available anywhere on how we can reduce our risk.
What’s more, the research shows that every little bit counts – making even small changes in the right direction today can make a difference in the years, and decades, to come.
Be as lean as possible without becoming underweight
Image courtesy of American Institute for Cancer ResearchMaintaining a healthy weight is one of the most important things you can do to reduce your risk of many of the most common cancers. We advise people to aim to be towards the lower end of the healthy Body Mass Index (BMI) range, which is a BMI from 18.5 to 25. Find out your BMI with AICR’s BMI Calculator.
There is now convincing evidence that excess body fat is a risk factor for six types of cancer: post-menopausal breast cancer, colon cancer, esophageal cancer, endometrial cancer, kidney cancer, and pancreatic cancer; the evidence linking excess body fat to gallbladder cancer was judged probable.
In fact, scientists now say that, after not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight is the most important thing you can do for cancer prevention.
Be physically active for at least 30 minutes every day.
Most of us know that regular physical activity can help keep our hearts healthy now, the good news is that it can also reduce our risk of many cancers.
This is why AICR recommends people aim to be physically active for at least half an hour a day and then, as fitness improves, increase this level to about an hour.
And physical activity provides a double bonus: Not only does it reduce cancer risk in its own right, but being regularly active is also a great way of maintaining a healthy weight.
Limit consumption of calorie-dense foods (foods high in fats and added sugars and/or low in fiber) and avoid sugary drinks.
When we consistently choose foods and drinks filled with empty calories, we can indirectly impact our cancer risk, because this eating pattern can lead to obesity, which is a major cancer risk factor.
That’s why it’s a good idea to choose food rich in nutrients and high in fiber, doing so helps avoid being overweight.
Eat more of a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans.
At AICR we recommend a plant-based diet for lowering cancer risk that means making meals and snacks that feature only modest amounts of meat and instead revolve around vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans. A day in which you get at least five portions of these plant foods is a good day.
And diets that feature a variety of plant foods, like physical activity, have a double effect for cancer prevention. As well as the direct effect they have on cancer risk, people who eat plenty of them are also less likely to be overweight.
Limit consumption of red meats (such as beef, pork and lamb) and avoid processed meats.
To protect against cancer, AICR recommends limiting consumption of red meat (such as beef, pork and lamb) to 18 ounces (cooked weight) per week. You could have six meals a week featuring 3-ounce portions, or three meals a week with 6-ounce portions; it’s up to you.
Processed meats like ham, bacon, sausages and cold cuts are best saved for special occasions.
This is because there is convincing evidence that red and processed meat increase risk of colorectal cancer, which is one of the most common types of cancer in the US.
If consumed at all, limit alcoholic drinks to 2 for men and 1 for women a day.
The evidence that all types of alcoholic drinks are a cause of a number of cancers is now stronger than ever before.
This means cutting down on the amount you drink could play an important role in reducing your cancer risk.
Limit consumption of salty foods and foods processed with salt (sodium).
Many of us know that having too much salt increases risk of high blood pressure.
But people might not be aware that consuming too much salt also probably increases risk of stomach cancer.
Don’t use supplements to protect against cancer.
AICR doesn’t recommend relying on dietary supplements for lowering cancer risk. If at all possible, it’s best to get the nutrients we need from our diets. This is because, in certain cases, very high doses of vitamin supplements have been associated with increased cancer risk.
There are, however, some groups of Americans – such as nursing and expectant mothers and seniors – who may benefit from dietary supplements for other reasons. Your doctor can provide you with guidance tailored to your needs.
It is best for mothers to breastfeed exclusively for up to 6 months and then add other liquids and foods.
Research is showing that our overall cancer risk affected by what we do throughout the whole of our lives. This is why AICR says it’s never too early to think about cancer prevention.
Breastfeeding your newborn is a good example of this, as it probably reduces the risk of the baby becoming overweight and obese.
But there is also a cancer prevention benefit for the mother, as breastfeeding your baby reduces your risk of breast cancer.
After treatment, cancer survivors should follow the recommendations for cancer prevention.
There is some evidence that, particularly with breast cancer, cancer survivors can reduce their risk of recurrence by eating healthily and maintaining a healthy weight.
This is an area where more research is needed and this is why cancer survivorship is one of the priority areas for AICR’s research program.
But while this research is being carried out, people who want to stop cancer recurring are best advised to follow the recommendations for preventing it in the first place.
Taken together, these Recommendations for Cancer Prevention form an empowering, evidence-based message that’s important to remember on World Cancer Day, and all year long:
Making small, everyday changes today can help you lower your risk of cancer throughout your lifetime.