Want to Avoid Cancer? Simple Lifestyle Changes Can Make a Big Difference

The fight against cancer has some good news today, with a new report revealing that simple lifestyle changes are effective in preventing nearly half of all cancer-related deaths.

We already know that certain lifestyle indicators—such as cigarette smoking, obesity, and exposure to UV radiation from sunlight—are risk factors for cancer. A new survey of cancer occurrences in U.S. adults fills out some of the statistics, showing us that the impact of changes to our daily activities is potentially huge when it comes to cancer prevention.

The study, published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, has the usual mouthful of a title: “Proportion and Number of Cancer Cases and Deaths Attributable to Potentially Modifiable Risk Factors in the United States.” But the details are revealing: During the year 2014 in the United States, 42.0% of all cancers and 45.1% of all cancer deaths were attributable to the way we live our lives.

Cigarette smoking, of course, led the way as the cause of 19% of all cancers and 28.8% of deaths from cancer. Excess body weight and alcohol intake followed, with 6.5% and 4.0% of all cancer deaths, respectively.

Over 12.7 million people each year are diagnosed with cancer, which kills around 7.6 million annually. If the lifestyle numbers from the American study were consistent globally, that would mean that nearly 3.5 million cancer deaths each year are potentially preventable.

Listed below are the controllable risk factors for cancer, along with the number of related cancer deaths in a year:

  • Cigarette smoking (298,970)
  • Excess body weight (123,300)
  • Alcohol (87,600)
  • UV radiation (74,460)
  • Physical inactivity (46,300)
  • Low fruit/vegetable consumption (29,090)
  • HPV infection (29,010)
  • Low fiber consumption (14,460)
  • Processed meat consumption (12,650)
  • Red meat consumption (7,540)
  • HIV infection (7,450)
  • H. Pyl. infection (7,410)
  • HCV infection (6,940)
  • Low calcium (6,900)
  • Secondhand smoke (5,840)
  • HBV infection (1,760)
  • HHV8 infection (1,040)

It’s easy to draw conclusions from the data. Topping the list, if you wish to avoid cancer, is to avoid cigarettes. Don’t smoke them and stay away from secondhand smoke. Following that, get your body weight under control. Here are all the steps you can take:

  • Avoid cigarettes
  • Maintain a healthy body weight
  • Limit alcohol intake
  • Avoid overexposure to sunlight and UV radiation
  • Be physically active
  • Eat a healthy diet (get plenty of fruits, vegetables, and fiber; get enough calcium; limit processed and red meats)
  • For the viral infections on the list, get vaccinated and/or screened when appropriate, get treatment as necessary, and avoid practices that lead to transmission and infection

It’s a pretty familiar list. In fact, these recommendations for limiting cancer risk look a lot like any other general recommendations for living a healthy life. So what are we waiting for?