01/08/2014 12:30 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Cancer Prevention Guidelines Really Do Lower Risk Of Cancer, Study Finds

You've definitely heard the advice before: Exercise, maintain a healthy weight, eat healthfully and don't drink too much alcohol if you want to keep your cancer risks low. And now, a new study shows that following this advice really does help lower your risk of cancer.

Researchers from the University of Arizona found that postmenopausal women who most adhered to the official cancer prevention guidelines from the American Cancer Society had a lower risk of developing and dying from cancer, as well as a lower risk of dying from any cause over an average eight-year period.

"The message is simple and clear: If you want to reduce your risk for cancer, even later in life, eat a healthy diet, be active daily, avoid or limit alcohol, and don’t smoke," study researcher Cynthia Thomson, Ph.D., R.D., professor of public health at the university, said in a statement. "Our results support the ACS guidelines for cancer prevention. Certainly, efforts to identify complementary factors that can reduce risk further should be supported as well, because diet and activity alone do not account for the majority of risk."

The cancer prevention guidelines specifically call for maintaining a healthy weight throughout your lifetime, eating healthfully (including limiting red/processed meats, eating whole grains over refined grains and eating five or more servings of produce daily), limiting alcohol (one drink per day or fewer for women) and exercising at a moderate to vigorous level for at least a half-hour five days a week.

Researchers looked at how well 65,838 postmenopausal women ages 50 to 79 who were part of the Women's Health Initiative Observational Study abided by the guidelines. The women were followed for 8.3 years, on average, during which 8,632 women were diagnosed with cancer and 2,356 women died from cancer. The women were divided into four groups based on their adherence to the guidelines. Researchers also included smoking in their calculations in the study of abiding by the cancer prevention guidelines. "While tobacco smoking is not included in the ACS diet and physical activity guidelines score, it was considered in a stratified analysis, given its association with select cancers," they explained in the Cancer Prevention Research study.

The women who most abided by the guidelines had a 17 percent decreased risk of developing cancer and a 20 percent lower risk of dying from cancer over the study period. They also had a 27 percent decreased risk of dying from all causes during the study.

Women who most abided by the guidelines specifically had a 22 percent decreased risk of developing breast cancer and a 52 percent decreased risk of colorectal cancer.

Researchers also found that different races seemed to benefit more from abiding by the guidelines. For instance, non-Hispanic white women only showed modest decreases in risk, while black women and Hispanic women showed bigger gains.