Healthful Lifestyles and Cancer: Much More Than A Single Behavior

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A recent study is the first to demonstrate the cumulative effect of a large number of lifestyle behaviors.
A recent study is the first to demonstrate the cumulative effect of a large number of lifestyle behaviors.

Overwhelming evidence suggests that simple lifestyle changes can dramatically reduce the risk of cancer.

The recently published results of a prospective study that followed 343,150 people for 5 years found a significant reduction in cancer incidence among those who maintained “healthy behaviours: low alcohol intake, non-smoking, healthy BMI [body mass index], physical activity and a healthy diet.”1

“Compared with subjects who followed none or a single healthy behaviour,” the study's authors reported, “a healthy lifestyle based on all five behaviours was associated with a reduction of about one-third in incident cancer.”

The study's lead author, Peter C. Elwood, MD, DSc, an epidemiologist at Cardiff University in Wales and a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, told Cancer Therapy Advisor that the study is further proof that “a healthy lifestyle is better than any pill, with no cost and no side effects.”

The study is hardly the first to find potent links between lifestyle choices and cancer. But it's the first to involve a cohort of such sweeping magnitude and to demonstrate a cumulative effect of so many lifestyle behaviors.

“Each additional healthy behaviour was independently associated with an average of 8% reduction in risk for all cancers,” the authors wrote. 

Plus, Dr Elwood said, “the effect of a lifestyle is quantitative. That is, the more the better. The more exercise the better. The lower the body mass index the better. Not going to the extreme of course. But they can all be improved and there will be additional benefits.”

Dr Elwood also is the co-author of one of the most cited studies on the effect of lifestyle on health. The Caerphilly Prospective Study followed a cohort of 2235 men aged 45 to 59 years for more than 3 decades.2 It, too, found about a 35% reduction of cancer incidences, “but the numbers were too small,” Dr Elwood said. “The two studies were remarkably similar. But one is highly significant. Totally persuasive. The other was just too small to give definite conclusions.”

The link between smoking and cancer is, of course, well known. Numerous studies and major medical organizations have also addressed the hazards of ignoring the healthful behaviors.

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