Healthy eating and lifestyle changes can help you avoid almost a third of all cancers, according to new Queensland research.

New Queensland-based research has discovered that almost a third of all cancers could be prevented by making changes to your lifestyle.

A QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute study, which was funded by Cancer Council Australia, used statistics analysis to track how many cancers were caused by each risk factor. The researchers looked at the numbers on 13 known cancer risk factors including smoking, diet, obesity and UV light exposure to find an estimated 37,000 cancer cases in 2010 were actually preventable.

The study also estimated that 33 per cent of all cancers in men and 31 per cent of those in women were avoidable.

Cancer Council Australia CEO, Professor Sanchia Aranda, said the ground-breaking research should encourage Australians to take more action to reduce their risk.

“Of 13 identified risk factors, smoking, UV radiation, body weight, poor diet and alcohol caused around 90 per cent of all preventable cancers,” Professor Aranda said. “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 association with smoking is well-known, but the study shows that 7,000 new cancer cases a year are also attributable to low fruit and vegetable intake, low fibre intake and eating excess red meat. Eating more fruit, vegetables and wholegrains is a positive step we can take to reduce our risk. These healthier choices also reduce obesity, the cause of 3,900 cancer cases in its own right, and balance overconsumption of red and processed meat, which account for a further 2600 cases.

“People are confused about fad diets and mixed health messages, but the evidence is clear that a diet rich in vegetables, fruit and whole grains, with other foods consumed in moderation, will cut your cancer risk. Now we can back that advice with data on cancer case numbers, to emphasise why we urge people to adopt a cancer-smart lifestyle.”

The research, which was published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health today, found that smoking was the leading cause of cancer while the research team also found that 7,000 new cancer cases were attributable to low fruit and vegetable intake, low fibre intake and eating excess red meat.

The research linked 3,917 cancer cases to obesity, including one in five kidney cancers, one in 10 colon cancers and 8 per cent of all post-menopausal breast cancers.

Smoking was linked to 15,525 cancer cases, including four out of five lung cancers, three out of five throat and oesophageal cancers, and one in five stomach, liver and kidney cancers.

Alcohol caused 3,200 incidences of cancer and not eating enough fruit was responsible for 1,550 cases, the study found.

Professor David Whiteman from QIMR Berghofer, who led the study, said the risk factors considered in the report had to meet three conditions – be classified by the World Health Organisation or the World Cancer Research Fund as a cause of at least one cancer type; be modifiable; and there had to be reliable data on numbers of Australians exposed to the risk factor. He said there was sufficient evidence to associate 13 different factors with 24 cancer types, including some cancers with high mortality.

“Hopefully the study will help guide lifestyle change and health policy in Australia,” Professor Whiteman said, “and contribute to the international evidence on cancer prevention.”

This was the first time such a study had been done in Australia and one of the first applications of the technique in the world.

Leading causes of preventable cancer cases in 2010

  1. Tobacco smoking (15,525 cases)
  2. UV radiation (7,220)
  3. Obesity (3,917)
  4. Infections (3,421)
  5. Alcohol (3,208)
  6. Red/processed meat (2,614)
  7. Inadequate fibre (2,609)
  8. Physical inactivity (1,814)
  9. Inadequate fruit (1,555)
  10. Female hormone replacement therapy (539)
  11. Inadequate vegetables (311)
  12. Inadequate breast feeding (235)
  13. Oral contraceptives (157)

Will this groundbreaking report make any difference to the way you live your life? Have your say in the comments below!