More than 100,000 cancers - nearly 4 in 10 of all those diagnosed in Britain each year - could be prevented if people made different choices, according to a new study by Cancer Research UK.
"Looking at all the evidence, it's clear that around 40 percent of all cancers are caused by things we mostly have the power to change," reads a statement from study author Max Parkin, a cancer epidemiologist based at Queen Mary, University of London. Those behaviors include: smoking, unhealthy eating, alcohol consumption and being overweight.
Researchers analyzed data on cancer cases that occurred in the U.K between 1993 and 2007. Cancers were then assessed to determine the proportion that could be attributed to the following 14 risk factors: drinking alcohol, smoking tobacco, not eating enough fruits and vegetables, not eating enough fiber, consuming red and processed meat, consuming lots of salt, being overweight or obese, not exercising, infections (such as HPV), sunlight exposure, radiation exposure, occupational exposure to chemicals and for women: not breastfeeding, and undergoing hormone replacement therapy.
Predictably, smoking tobacco was found to be the greatest lifestyle factor most related to cancer with nearly 23% of cancer cases in men attributed in some way to smoking, along with nearly 16% in women.
Not eating enough fruits and vegetables was found to have contributed to nearly 6 percent of cancers in men versus 3.4 percent in women. Surprisingly, obesity was found to be a major factor in nearly 7 percent of cancers in women, versus 4.1 percent in men. When taking into account all 14 lifestyle and environmental risk factors analyzed in the study, the number of cancer cases attributed to preventable circumstances increased to an amount closer to 135,000.
"We didn't expect to find that eating fruit and vegetables would prove to be so important in protecting men against cancer," Parkin said in a statement. "And among women we didn't expect being overweight to have a greater effect that alcohol."
Overall, the researchers found 45 percent of all cancers in men could be prevented, along with 40 percent of all cancers in women.
In assessing the group's findings, Dr. Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK's chief executive, noted: "Leading a healthy life doesn't guarantee that a person won't get cancer but this study shows that healthy habits can significantly stack the odds in our favor. Stopping smoking, eating a balanced diet, cutting down on alcohol and maintaining a healthy weight could be New Year's resolutions that help save more lives in the future."
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