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Sticking to Lifestyle Guidelines May Reduce Cancer Risk

A study of nearly a half-million Americans has found that following cancer prevention guidelines from the American Cancer Society may modestly reduce your overall risk of developing cancer and have a greater impact on reducing your overall risk of dying. Having a healthy body weight and staying active appeared to have the most positive impact.

The observational study–the largest of its kind–by researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University and its NCI-designated Albert Einstein Cancer Center, found that sticking with the guidelines seems to significantly reduce the risk for developing certain cancers, particularly colorectal cancer in both sexes and endometrial cancer in women. The findings were published online in January 2015 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

A release from the college notes that in 2001, the American Cancer Society (ACS) issued guidelines for preventing cancer. The guidelines recommended that people avoid smoking, achieve and maintain a healthy weight throughout life, be physically active, and eat a healthy diet emphasizing plant foods.

The Einstein researchers stratified study participants into five groups based on how closely they adhered to the ACS guidelines. Men who adhered most closely to the guidelines had a reduced overall risk of developing cancer of 10 percent compared to men with the lowest adherence. For women, the corresponding reduction in overall cancer risk was 19 percent. Men with the highest adherence had a reduced risk of dying from cancer of 25 percent; for women, the reduction was 24 percent. Risk for cancers at various sites varied widely (details below).

Can lifestyle changes reduce risk for cancer?

The release quotes lead author Geoffrey Kabat, Ph.D., senior epidemiologist in the department of epidemiology & population health at Einstein, as saying, "The guidelines made sense for overall health, but it was an open question whether they would have an impact on cancer outcomes. Our findings suggest that it's worth the effort to adhere to the ACS guidelines, and that the closer you follow the guidelines, the greater the benefit for preventing certain types of cancer."

Previous studies had shown that health practices such as eating a balanced diet and maintaining a healthy body weight can reduce one's risk of developing or dying from cancer. "However, these studies were relatively small and few looked at the effects on specific types of cancer, which limited the usefulness of the results," said senior author Thomas Rohan, M.B.B.S., Ph.D., professor and chair of epidemiology & population health at Einstein and Montefiore Medical Center the Harold and Muriel Block Chair in Epidemiology and Population Health at Einstein and leader of the Cancer Epidemiology Program at the Albert Einstein Cancer Center.

Study participants followed for 10 to 13 years