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World Cancer Day research reveals up to 70% of some cancers could be prevented

Friday 4 February, 2011

World Cancer Day research reveals up to 70% of some cancers could be prevented

And no, the answer's not a magic pill, an ancient berry or a protective wristband

New research released today to coincide with World Cancer Day (4 February 2011) has strengthened the link between lifestyle factors and cancer with findings that up to 70% of certain cancers could be prevented by diet, exercise and maintaining a healthy weight.

It also pinpoints the level of influence body fat has on the risk of developing certain cancers.

Based on US figures, 70% of cancers of the uterus, 63% of cancers of the mouth and throat* and 69% of oesophageal cancers could be prevented by a healthy lifestyle.

In Victoria, 559 women are diagnosed with cancer of the uterus each year, while 558 men and women are affected by mouth and throat cancers annually. Three hundred-and-fifty Victorians are diagnosed with oesophageal cancer per year.

In addition, 45% of all bowel cancers, which is the second most common cancer in Victoria affecting 3593 people each year could also be avoidable, while 38% of the 3,439 breast cancers diagnosed in Victoria each year would also be prevented.

Prof. David Hill, Director of Cancer Council Victoria, said the new research reinforced how important lifestyle factors such as diet and physical activity were in preventing cancer.

"Since cancer patterns and lifestyle in the US are quite similar to Australia, the new US estimates are probably quite a good guide for us.

"In general we know that more than a third of all cancers can be prevented by a healthy lifestyle, but this research indicates that for certain cancers the impact of these factors is much, much higher.

"This is good news. People often feel that cancer is just something that happens to you, but this research shows there are effective ways you can decrease your risk of the disease.

"It may not be fashionable, nor is there anything magical and instantaneous about it, but the truth is exercising, eating a healthy diet, watching your weight as well as quitting smoking, being SunSmart and limiting alcohol will all significantly cut your risk of cancer," said Prof. Hill.

Impact of body fat on cancer risk

The research specifically identified the preventability of cancers for which body fatness was a major independent risk cancer.

Based on the US figures, around 17% of female breast cancers and 49% of cancers of the uterus could be prevented by maintaining a healthy weight without making any other lifestyle changes.

Around 34% of the 329 cases of pancreatic cancer in Victorian men and 25% of the 291 cases in women could also be prevented by maintaining a trimmer waistline.

"While obesity rates in this state continue to rise, so will cancer rates. This is a needless tragedy that could be avoided," said Prof. Hill.

According to the latest Victorian population health survey almost half of all Victorians (47%) over 18 years were overweight or obese.

About World Cancer Day

In 2005, the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) launched "World Cancer Day", which aims to bring the growing cancer crisis to the attention of the public, government leaders and health policymakers worldwide. World Cancer Day takes place on February 4, 2011 and aims to highlight the "World Cancer Declaration", which the UICC asks everyone to sign, a road map on immediate steps to reduce the global cancer burden by 2020.

Each year 12.7 million people discover they have cancer and 7.6 million people die from the disease, this figure (7.6 million deaths) represents almost the entire population of Switzerland. The World Health Organization (WHO) projects that without immediate action the global number of deaths from cancer will increase by nearly 80 per cent by 2030, with most occurring in low- and middle-income countries.

About the research

The findings of the World Cancer Research Fund/ American Institute for Cancer Research preventability estimates report were calculated using information on cancer risk associated with lifestyle factors and prevalence of lifestyles factors in each of the four countries - the US, UK, Brazil and China.

* Pharynx and larynx