Dietary changes 'could prevent 25% of cancers': Conference told of need to eat more fruit, less salt

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The Independent Online
A QUARTER of all cancers in the UK and across Europe could be prevented if people alter what they eat, a cancer expert said in Brussels yesterday.

His message was: 'Just eat more of the same plant foods.'

Dr Bas Bueno de Mesquita, cancer co-ordinator at the Dutch National Institute for Epidemiology, told a cancer conference that raw fruit and vegetables were the foods most consistently associated with a reduced cancer risk.

Dr Mesquita said it was estimated that 50-60 per cent of cancers of the stomach could be prevented by eating more vegetables and fruit, and less salt and salted foods and also by eradicating infections such as Helicobacter pylori, a bacterial infection in the stomach.

'About 30-40 per cent of cancers of the colon and rectum could be prevented by increasing consumption of fruit and vegetables and decreasing intake of animal fats and or meat; 9-17 per cent of lung cancers by increasing consumption of fruit and vegetables and 10-20 per cent of breast cancers by decreasing consumption of fat and foods of animal origin,' he said.

Dr Mesquita added: 'Consequently in more European Union countries it is estimated that, in men and women, about 25 per cent - 176,000 out of 658,400 - of major cancers are potentially preventable by changes in diet. Using more accurate findings of forthcoming large-scale epidemiological studies may result in even larger preventable proportions of new cancers.'

He said that, since in Mediterranean countries the consumption of vegetables and fruit is about five times higher and of raw vegetables 10 times higher, the desirable increase in the consumption of plant foods was feasible. 'It is a positive message; virtually everyone enjoys some fruit and vegetables,' he said.

One of these studies, the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC), involves 400,000 men and women in seven countries. The UK arm, supported by the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, will follow 75,000 people over at least 10 years.

Dr Mesquita said that in EU countries, rates of breast and prostate cancer were increasing. While evidence is good on the protective powers of fruit and vegetables in breast cancer, the data was less clear on prostate cancer. But he did not believe evidence from research into reducing cancer risks by taking high doses of vitamin supplements was conclusive.

Britain's failure to ban tobacco advertising - together with Germany and the Netherlands - was the main reason why the European Union would not meet its its target of reducing cancer deaths by 15 per cent by 2000, the conference was told.

Professor Maurice Tubiana, chairman of the expert committee, said tobacco accounted for one-third of all cancer deaths and if consumption could be halved the 15 per cent reduction would be achieved.