10 recommendations to reduce cancer risk

By Liz Meszaros, MDLinx
Published February 6, 2019

Key Takeaways

Based on an analysis of the latest studies and evidence available, the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) has developed and released 10 recommendations for cancer prevention.

“Our Cancer Prevention Recommendations represent a package of ways of life which, together, can make an enormous impact on people’s likelihood of developing cancer and other chronic diseases over their lifetimes,” noted Professor Martin Wiseman, medical and scientific advisor, WCRF International.

  1. Maintain a healthy weight. Excess body weight and obesity have been linked to many cancers, including those of the esophagus, pancreas, liver, colorectum, breast, and kidney. Other cancers that obesity or excess body weight may cause include those of the mouth, pharynx, and larynx; stomach; gallbladder; ovaries; and prostate. Strive to keep weight as low as possible, and avoid weight gain throughout your adult A body mass index measure of 18.5-24.9 kg/m2 is considered healthy among adults.
  2. Be physically active every day. The WCRF recommends that you strive to be at least moderately physically active and follow or exceed national guidelines. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends daily activity, with at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week, or at least 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity per week. Broken down, that’s about 21 minutes of moderate activity, or roughly 11 minutes of vigorous activity per day—the “minimum amount necessary” according to the WHO.

 “For cancer prevention, it is likely that the more exercise you do, the greater the benefit. But                     exercise doesn’t just mean going to the gym. Moderate activity might be household chores while               vigorous activity might be swimming fast lengths in the pool or playing five-a-side,” said Susannah             Brown,  senior science program manager, WCRF International, and former international rugby                   player.

  1. Eat whole grains, vegetables, fruit, and beans. The recommendation is to include whole grains, vegetables, fruit, and legumes as a major part of your daily diet. Strong evidence supports the protective effects of whole grains and fiber against colorectal cancer. For fiber intake, 30 g/d is sufficient, and for fruits and vegetables, 400 g/d. Get at least five servings of a variety of non-starchy vegetables and fruits daily, and eat a mix of non-starchy and starchy foods if possible.
  2. Cut down on fast foods and processed foods. These foods are usually high in fat, starches, and/or sugars. Such foods are readily available, affordable, tasty, and energy-dense, but also have a high glycemic load. They include fast food, many pre-prepared dishes, snacks, bakery items, desserts, and candy.
  3. Limit your intake of red and processed meat. The WCRF recommends that you eat only moderate amounts of red meat (weekly limit: 12-18 oz) and little to no processed meats. Strong evidence links both to colorectal cancer. Red meat includes all muscle meat from mammals, including beef, veal, pork, venison, lamb, mutton, horse, and goat. Processed meats are those that have been salted, cured, fermented, and smoked, and can include ham, salami, bacon, and sausages.

“The evidence on processed meat and cancer is clear-cut. The data show that no level of intake can            confidently be associated with a lack of risk. Processed meats are often high in salt, which can also            increase the risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease,” said Professor Wiseman.

  1. Limit your intake of sugar-sweetened drinks. Overconsumption of sugar-sweetened beverages has been linked to weight gain and obesity, which may increase the risk of developing certain types of cancer. Instead, drink water or unsweetened drinks, including tea or coffee without added sugar.
  2. Limit alcohol consumption. To prevent cancer, the guidelines recommend no alcohol. According to strong evidence, alcoholic beverages can cause cancers of the mouth, pharynx, and larynx; esophagus; liver; colorectum; breast; and stomach.
  3. Don’t rely on supplements to meet your nutritional needs. Your goal should be to meet your nutritional needs through your diet alone. Currently, no strong evidence exists that dietary supplements actually reduce the risk of cancer, with the exception of calcium for colorectal cancer. In addition, there is also strong evidence that high-dose beta-carotene supplements could increase the risk of lung cancer in some. However, there are times when supplements could be beneficial in very specific populations, including:
  • Vitamin B12 for those over 50 years old who have difficulty absorbing it in its naturally occurring form,
  • Folic acid and iron supplements for women who are pregnant or may become pregnant, and
  • Vitamin D supplements for infants, young children, pregnant women, and those who are breastfeeding
  1. Breastfeed your baby. Breastfeeding is good for mothers and babies. Researchers have provided strong evidence that breastfeeding protects mothers against breast cancer and lowers their risk of type 2 diabetes. In babies, breastfeeding promotes healthy growth and immune-system development, and later, lowers their risks of asthma, type 2 diabetes, overweight, and obesity.
  2. After a cancer diagnosis, keep following these recommendations. Although researchers are studying the effects of diet, nutrition, and physical activity on the risk of cancer in cancer survivors, there is limited to no evidence yet. But, the WCRF recommends that all cancer survivors receive professional care and guidance about nutrition and physical activity, and that they follow these Cancer Prevention Recommendations for as long as possible after acute treatment has ended.

In the end, experts hope that these guidelines will provide wide-ranging guidance—to not only help reduce the risk of cancer, even in cancer survivors, but inform scientists and researchers in their clinical studies, and guide public health policy as well.

“The Cancer Prevention Recommendations are the centerpiece of our new report. They form a global blueprint, a package that people can follow to help reduce their risk of cancer. They are useful to scientists because they can help determine future directions of research. They are useful to policymakers because they can inform the development of policy to help people follow them. They are useful to communities and families and individuals to help them reduce their cancer risk, and also to cancer survivors to highlight the best ways to further reduce their cancer risk. They are also helpful to health professionals in their work with cancer patients and the general public,” concluded Kate Allen, PhD, executive director, Science & Public Affairs, WCRF International.

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