Poor diet leading to cancer kills almost as many people as overexposure to the sun in Australia
Poor diet leading to cancer kills almost as many people as overexposure to the sun in Australia

Cancer experts reveal 13 ways to help prevent disease

One hour's exercise a day, breastfeeding consistently for 12 months, and hormone replacement therapy are all revealed as good or bad in the fight against cancer in new research from Queensland

Jess Staufenberg
Wednesday 07 October 2015 09:02

The best 13 ways to stave off cancer have been revealed, after new research found one in three deaths from the disease could be prevented.

A study by cancer experts in Australia found 90% of all cancer deaths were caused by just five high-risk factors - smoking, exposure to the sun, body weight, bad diet and alcohol.

And five more, ranging from the contraceptive pill to breasfeeding, were revealed as helping or hindering cancer's takeover of the body, according to the research published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health.

With more than half of people developing cancer by the age of 85, it is hoped the findings could prevent 37,000 cases a year if implemented over the long-term.

"This is a call to action," Professor Sanchia Aranda, from the Cancer Council, which helped fund the research, told The Advertiser.

"It's time to bust the myth that everything gives you cancer and do more to reduce the risks that we know cause cancer."

The study was carried out by the QMIR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Queensland, spearheaded by Professor David Whiteman.

It found that kicking a nicotine habit, and covering up under the sun's powerful rays, could together prevent nearly 23,000 cancers a year. Changes to diet, and an hour's exercise a day, also came in as top life-preserving advice.

According to the advice, the 13 steps to significantly reduce the risk of cancer, in descending order of importance, are:

1. Stopping smoking. This notoriously difficult habit to break sees tar build-up in the lungs and DNA alteration and causes 15,558 cancer deaths a year.

2. Avoiding the sun, and the melanoma that comes with overexposure to harmful UV rays, could help conscientious shade-lovers dodge being one of the 7,220 people who die from it.

3. A diet that is low in red meat can help to prevent bowel cancer, according to the research - with 30 grams a day recommended for men, and 25 a day recommended for women.

4. Foods high in fibre, meanwhile, can further make for healthier bowels. Processed foods in developed countries appear to be causing higher rates of colon cancer than diets in continents such as Africa, which have high bean and pulse intakes.

5. Two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables a day were given as the magic number for good diet in the research. Overall, diet causes only slightly fewer cancer deaths than sun exposure in Australia, at 7,000 a year.

6. Obesity and being overweight, linked to poor diet and lack of exercise, causes 3,917 deaths by cancer a year on its own.

7. Dying of a cancer caused by infection also comes in highly, linked to 3,421 cancer deaths a year. Infections such as human papilloma virus - which can cause cervical cancer in women - and hepatitis - can be prevented by vaccinations and having regular check-ups.

8. Cutting back on drinks could reduce the risk of cancers caused by alcohol - such as liver cancer, bowel cancer, breast cancer and mouth cancer - that are leading to 3,208 deaths a year

9. Sitting around and not getting the heart pumping - less than one hour's exercise a day - is directly leading to about 1,800 people having lower immune functions and higher hormone levels, among other factors, that cause cancers.

10. Hormone replacement therapy, which is used to relieve symptoms of the menopause in women, caused 539 deaths from (mainly breast) cancer in Australia last year. It did, however, prevent 52 cases of colorectal cancers.

11. Insufficient breastfeeding, bizarrely, makes the top 10. Breastfeeding for 12 months could prevent 235 cancer cases a year, said the research

12. Oral contraceptives, like the Pill, caused about 105 breast cancers and 52 cervical cancers - but it also prevented about 1,440 ovarian and uterine (womb) cases of cancer last year

13. Taking aspirin also prevented 232 cases in the Queensland research of colorectal and oesophagal cancers - but as it can also cause strokes, is not yet recommended as a formal treatment against the risk of cancer.

Professor Whitehead told The Advertiser that any lifestyle changes needed to be committed to in the long-term to have any effect on preventing cancer in later life.

"It can't be done by drinking a fruit smoothie once a week, it's not a quick fix, it's a long-term lifestyle change," he said.

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