World Cancer Research Fund is the leading authority on cancer prevention research related to diet, weight and physical activity. One in three people are affected by cancer but about a third of the most common cancers are preventable.1 Together we can help people make informed lifestyle choices to reduce their cancer risk in ways that are achievable and sustainable.
Being overweight is strongly linked to breast, bowel, ovarian, kidney, pancreatic, gall bladder, oesophagus, womb and advanced prostate cancer.2 We could prevent about 1 in 6 of these cancers if everyone was a healthy weight.
2. Move more
As well as helping people to stay in shape, research shows that being active has a direct role in preventing bowel, breast and womb cancer. To reduce risk, we should aim to be moderately active for at least 30 minutes every day.
Research shows that eating plant foods such as wholegrains, pulses, vegetables and fruits probably reduces the risk of a range of cancers, including mouth, throat, oesophagus, stomach, bowel and lung. They may protect against cancer because they help keep the body healthy and strengthen the immune system. They also contain phytochemicals, which can help to protect cells from damage that may lead to cancer, and fibre, which reduces the risk of bowel cancer.
These foods and drinks can make it hard to stay in shape because it’s easy to consume a lot of calories from a small amount of food. Being overweight or obese increases the risk of nine types of cancer.
Alcohol is linked to cancers of the mouth, throat, oesophagus, bowel, breast and liver. Drinking too much can also contribute to weight gain. We recommend no more than two drinks a day for men, and one drink a day for women.
To reduce bowel cancer risk, we advise eating no more than 500g (cooked weight) per week of red meat, like beef, pork and lamb, and eating as little processed meat (like ham and bacon) as possible.
Salt is linked to stomach cancer; scientists think this might be because salt damages the lining of the stomach. Daily intake of salt should be less than 6g (around a teaspoon).
Evidence shows that taking high dose supplements of some nutrients can affect your risk of different cancers in unpredictable ways. That’s why we advise against using dietary supplements for cancer prevention, and recommend that, for most people, the best source of nutrition is a healthy diet.
It is best to breastfeed babies exclusively for the first six months. Breastfed babies are less likely to become overweight or obese later in life.
Breastfeeding also lowers the levels of some cancer-related hormones in the mother’s body. After breastfeeding, the mother’s body gets rid of any cells in the breasts that may have DNA damage, which may reduce the risk of breast cancer developing in the future.
10. Cancer survivors
There is growing evidence that physical activity and other lifestyle choices that can help you maintain a healthy weight may help to prevent cancer recurrence. However, research is still emerging. Until we know more, the best advice is to follow the recommendations above, where clinically appropriate.
Published in Winter 2014 issue