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December 19, 2012 | Issue 111

2012 look back

The Year's Top 8 Findings in Cancer Prevention

It’s the year’s final issue of Cancer Research Update and we’re taking a look back at the research. Below, in no particular order, we’re highlighting eight of the 2012 findings that have advanced the field of cancer prevention and survivorship.

1. Thousands of Pancreatic Cancer Cases are Preventable

Pancreas In Situ Xray ImagePancreatic cancer is among the deadliest of cancers in the United States, with close to as many people dying from the disease each year as new cases diagnosed. With the pancreas nestled deep within our body, the disease is often not diagnosed until its late stages and treatment is challenging.

There is clear and convincing evidence that staying a healthy weight can prevent thousands of US cases of pancreatic cancer each year, concluded an October report by AICR and the World Cancer Research Fund. The Continuous Update Project: Pancreatic Cancer analyzed all the relevant global research relating to food, nutrition and physical activity and pancreatic cancer risk. AICR estimates that being lean can prevent 19 percent of US pancreatic cancer cases each year, approximately 23 cases each day.

Read more about the CUP report findings.

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2. Exercise Helps Cancer Survivors

Research suggesting that physical activity helps cancer survivors has grown over the years. This year the evidence has become even clearer, bookended by two analyses of the research.

In February, an analysis of randomized controlled trials found that breast cancer patients who were physically active have improved physical functions and quality of life compared to the inactive. For survivors of all cancers, activity improved survivors’ body weight, handgrip strength and quality of life. Then in November, another review of the evidence focused only on cancer fatigue, the most reported side effect of treatment. The systematic review found that walking and other aerobic exercise both during and after treatment helped reduce fatigue for survivors of breast and prostate cancers.

Read more about the February study here, and the study on fatigue here.

3. Soy is Safe for Breast Cancer Survivors: AICR's Foods that Fight Cancer: Soy™

One of the big areas of study over the years relating to food and cancer risk has focused on soy and breast cancer. Soy contains phytoestrogens, and high blood levels of estrogen are linked to increased breast cancer risk.

A series of recent population studies has led to a clear conclusion: breast cancer patients and survivors can safely eat moderate amounts of soy foods. Studies have demonstrated as many as three servings a day are not associated with increased breast cancer risk. The review of the research was published on AICR’s website in November and is part of AICR’s Foods that Fight Cancer.

Read more about Soy and the cancer link in AICR's Foods that Fight Cancer™

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4. Being Inactive as Harmful as Smoking

Evidence clearly shows that getting those 30 minutes or more of moderate daily activity can reduce the risk of some cancers and improve health in a myriad of ways. But the harms and prevalence of inactivity was clarified this summer in a special issue of The Lancet.

Worldwide, inactivity causes one in ten cases of both breast cancers and colon cancers, with inactivity as much to blame for the major chronic diseases as smoking or obesity, according to one of the studies. Physical inactivity, the study found, causes 6 percent of coronary heart disease; 7 percent of type 2 diabetes; 10 percent of breast cancers, and 10 percent of colon cancers.

Inactivity has also reached pandemic levels around the world, concluded another study, yet there are ways to foster activity.

Read about the research on inactivity

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5. Lightening Our Heavy Nation

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The fact that the United States is facing an obesity epidemic is not new: two thirds of adults and one-third of children are now overweight or obese. Over three decades starting in 1980, the percentage of obese children increased from 7 to almost 20 percent. And the consequences of growing up and having excess body fat are dire. Obesity increases the risk of seven cancers, as well as type 2 diabetes and a host of other diseases.

In May, an Institute of Medicine (IOM) report identified concrete ways in which our country can reverse these alarming obesity trends. Accelerating Progress in Obesity Prevention: Solving the Weight of the Nation evaluated hundreds of strategies to reach a series of recommendations that occurs at all levels of society, from parents to schools.  

We spotlighted IOM panel member and obesity expert Shiriki K. Kumanyika, along with the IOM/HBO documentary Weight of the Nation.

Read the interview and about the IOM report.

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6. Sugary Drinks' Link to Weight Gain Strengthens

Numerous observational studies have suggested that regularly drinking sugary beverages contributes to weight gain. In September, two well-controlled and experimental studies published in The New England Journal of Medicine strengthened that link.

These experimental and relatively long-term studies both focused on how sugary beverages affect the weight of children and adolescents. The research adds powerful new evidence to AICR’s recommendation that people should avoid drinking sugary beverages to reduce cancer risk because it may lead to excess body fat. Obesity links to increased risk of seven types of cancers.

Read more about the studies.

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7. Losing Weight for Lower Cancer Risk

The evidence is clear that excess body fat increases the risk of seven cancers, including postmenopausal breast and endometrial. If being overweight and obese increases the risk, does losing weight lower it? It makes sense, but it’s a less well-studied research area.

Two studies published this year support that it can, at least for women. Both studies, which were conducted by the same team of researchers, focused on indicators or biomarkers related to inflammation, such as C-reactive protein (right). Chronic inflammation links to increased risk of some cancers.

Read more.

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8. Ways to Keep the Weight Off

When it comes to weight loss, experts often note that losing weight is the easy part, it’s keeping it off that’s the real challenge. Strategies to lose weight for the short term versus long term really are different, according to a study published in May, and focusing on healthy eating – rather than calories – is one way to keep weight off for the long haul.

Adding vegetables and fruits was the single most effective strategy to keep weight off for the long-term, which in this study was four years.  Eating fewer meats, cheeses and desserts, and drinking fewer sugary beverages were also ways the women successfully lost and kept off the weight.

Read more about the strategies.

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Triangle How do the editors’ picks compare to what most interested our readers? Take a look and see: We wrote about the nine most popular stories in this month’s AICR eNews.


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