Posted on Mon, 22 Mar 10
Although the link between smoking and cancer is well known, many people are not aware that other lifestyle factors are equally significant determinants of cancer risk (1). Cancer development has little to do with genetics and is determined by environment and lifestyle factors that can be changed to dramatically reduce risk and even delay disease progression (2). At the cornerstone of cancer prevention and care is diet.
Cancer is preventable
Few diseases affect more people and claim more lives than cancer. In many countries cancer is responsible for one in four deaths (3). Your risk for developing cancer can be dramatically reduced by paying attention to healthy lifestyle behaviours such as moderate alcohol use, regular exercise and quitting smoking (4). Lifestyle change can also improve overall health and help you live longer after a cancer diagnosis (5).
Food as medicine
One of the most powerful determinants of cancer development is diet, which is estimated to account for 30–35% of cancer and even more for certain types of cancer. For example, diet is linked to cancer deaths in as many as 70% of colorectal cancer cases (5). Nutrients in food have been found to reduce the development of cancer cells as well as inhibit their spread and growth (7). A diet rich in plant foods such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, herbs and spices is well known to reduce cancer risk, likely because it provides literally thousands of nutrients with anti-cancer activity (8).
Cancer prevention diet
Traditional Mediterranean cultures that consume plant based diets have a lower risk for several major types of cancers compared to westernised countries (9). Recently it was found that those who eat close to a traditional Mediterranean diet, no matter what country they are from, have a significantly reduced risk of cancer and experience greater health and longevity (10). There are several components of the Mediterranean diet that reduce cancer risk - including high fruit and vegetable intake, high dietary fibre, high intake of micronutrients, low red meat, low refined carbohydrate, and olive oil - indicating that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts (11).
1. Redeker C, Wardle J, Wilder D, Hiom S, Miles A. The launch of Cancer Research UK's 'Reduce the Risk' campaign: baseline measurements of public awareness of cancer risk factors in 2004. Eur J Cancer. 2009 Mar;45(5):827-36.
2. Lichtenstein P, Holm NV, Verkasalo PK, et al. Environmental and heritable factors in the causation of cancer—analyses of cohorts of twins from Sweden, Denmark, and Finland. N Engl J Med. 2000;343(2):78-85.
3. World Health Organisation. Global cancer rates could increase by 50% to 15 million by 2020. Accessed on-line 23-03-2010 at http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases
4. Khan N, Afaq F, Mukhtar H. Lifestyle as risk factor for cancer: Evidence from human studies. Cancer Lett. 2010 Jan 15. [Epub ahead of print]
5. Demark-Wahnefried W, Rock CL, Patrick K, Byers T. Lifestyle interventions to reduce cancer risk and improve outcomes. Am Fam Physician. 2008 Jun 1;77(11):1573-8.
6. Anand P, Kunnumakkara AB, Sundaram C, et al. Cancer is a preventable disease that requires major lifestyle changes. Pharm Res. 2008 Sep;25(9):2097-116.
7. Milner JA. Nutrition and cancer: essential elements for a roadmap. Cancer Lett. 2008 Oct 8;269(2):189-98.
8. Nishino H, et al. Cancer prevention by phytochemicals. Oncology. 2005;69 Suppl 1:38-40
9. Trichopoulou A, Lagiou P, Kuper H, Trichopoulos D. Cancer and Mediterranean dietary traditions. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2000 Sep;9(9):869-73.
10. Sofi F, Cesari F, Abbate R, Gensini GF, Casini A. Adherence to Mediterranean diet and health status: meta-analysis. BMJ. 2008 Sep 11;337:a1344. doi: 10.1136/bmj.a1344
11. Pelucchi C, Bosetti C, Rossi M, Negri E, La Vecchia C. Selected aspects of Mediterranean diet and cancer risk. Nutr Cancer. 2009 Nov;61(6):756-66.