Lifestyle changes could prevent half of all cancer deaths, according to research published in the online journal JAMA Oncology.
The study, by scientists at Harvard University in the US, found that just one in five women and one in four men follow basic health advice, meaning that just 20 per cent of the population can be classified as being at a low risk of developing cancer.
The researchers examined the health records of 136,000 white Americans, and found that cancer cases would drop by between 20 and 40 per cent and death rates would be halved if the whole population adopted a more healthy lifestyle.
A healthy lifestyle was defined as: not smoking, having no more than a drink or two a day, doing 75 minutes of high intensity or 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise a week, and keeping to a BMI between 18.5 and 27.
The researchers say that if the entire population followed this advice, lung cancer deaths would drop by 80 per cent, bowel cancer by 30 per cent, prostate cancer by 21 per cent, and breast cancer by 12 per cent.
The study’s lead author said: ‘These findings reinforce the predominant importance of lifestyle factors in determining cancer risk. Therefore, primary prevention should remain a priority for cancer control.’
The sample groups are large — 122,000 women and 52,000 men. The results are impressive, with a 50 per cent decrease in overall cancer deaths and a 20 to 40 per cent decrease in cancer incidence. However, the decreased absolute risk may not be as spectacular as these results suggest or may not reach statistical significance. (The paper did not contain much in the way of statistics with which the relative falls in risk could be compared.)