CANCER PREVENTION RECOMMENDATIONS
These ten recommendations for cancer prevention are drawn from the WCRF/AICR Second Expert Report. Each recommendation links to more details.
Next to not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight is the most important thing you can do to reduce your risk of cancer. Aim to be at the lower end of the healthy Body Mass Index (BMI) range.
Body fat doesn’t just sit there on our waists – it acts like a ‘hormone pump’ releasing insulin, estrogen and other hormones into the bloodstream, which can spur cancer growth. See Recommendations 2 and 3 for strategies for weight management.
Physical activity in any form helps to lower cancer risk. Aim to build more activity, like brisk walking, into your daily routine.
As well as helping us avoid weight gain, activity itself can help to prevent cancer. Studies show that regular activity can help to keep hormone levels in check, which is important because having high levels of some hormones can increase your cancer risk.
For maximum health benefits, scientists recommend that we aim for 60 minutes or more of moderate activity every day, or 30 minutes or more of vigorous activity.
Emerging research is showing that extended periods of inactivity – sitting at a computer, watching tv, etc. – increase many indicators for cancer risk. Break up your day by getting up and walking around a few minutes every hour.
Choosing healthy foods and drinks instead of those that are high in refined carbohydrates and often in added sugar and fat (energy-dense foods) can help you avoid becoming overweight or obese, which leads to increased cancer risk.
Most vegetables, fruits and beans are not energy-dense – they’re full of fiber and water, which fill you up without loading you down with extra calories.
The expert report also found that regularly consuming sugary drinks contributes to weight gain. These drinks are easy to drink in large quantities but don’t make us feel full, even though they are quite high in calories.
Water, unsweetened tea and coffee are good alternatives. Natural fruit juice counts as one of our recommended 5 or more daily portions of vegetables and fruits, but it does contain a lot of sugar. Limit yourself to one glass a day.
Basing our diets around plant foods (like vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans), which contain fiber and other nutrients, can reduce our risk of cancer.
For good health, AICR recommends that we base all of our meals on plant foods. When preparing a meal, aim to fill at least two-thirds of your plate with vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans.
As well as containing vitamins and minerals, plant foods are good sources of substances called phytochemicals. These are biologically active compounds, which can help to protect cells in the body from damage that can lead to cancer.
Plant foods can also help us to maintain a healthy weight because many of them are lower in energy density (calories).
The evidence that red meat (beef, pork and lamb) is a cause of colorectal cancer is convincing. Studies show, however, that we can consume modest amounts -- up to 18 ounces (cooked) per week -- without a measurable increase in colorectal cancer risk.
But when it comes to processed meat (ham, bacon, salami, hot dogs, sausages) the evidence is just as convincing, and cancer risk begins to increase with even very low consumption.
This is why the expert panel advises limiting red meat and avoiding processed meat.
Previous research has shown that modest amounts of alcohol may have a protective effect against coronary heart disease.
But for cancer prevention, the evidence is clear and convincing: alcohol in any form is a potent carcinogen. The best advice for those concerned about cancer is not to drink.
If you do choose to drink alcohol, however, limit your consumption as outlined above.
Both salt and salt-preserved foods probably increase the chance of developing stomach cancer. Studies have shown that high salt intake can damage the lining of the stomach in ways that can lead to cancer.
The AICR/WCRF expert panel found strong evidence that high-dose supplements of some nutrients can affect the risk of different cancers. The panel judged that in general, the best source of nourishment is food and drink, not dietary supplements.
The panel doesn’t discourage the use of multivitamins or specific supplements for those sub-sections of the population who stand to benefit from them, such as women of childbearing age and the elderly. They simply caution against expecting any dietary supplement to lower cancer risk as well as a healthy diet can.
It’s always best to discuss any dietary supplement with your doctor or a registered dietitian.
According to the expert report, breastfeeding benefits both mother and child.
The evidence that breastfeeding protects mothers against breast cancer is convincing. There are likely two reasons for this. First, breastfeeding lowers the levels of some cancer-related hormones in the mother’s body. Second, at the end of breastfeeding, the body gets rid of any cells in the breast that may have DNA damage.
In addition, babies who are breastfed are less likely to become overweight and obese. Overweight and obese children tend to remain overweight in adult life.
If you’re planning to breastfeed your baby, your doctor or certified lactation consultant will be able to provide more information and support.
Anyone who has received a diagnosis of cancer should receive specialized nutritional advice from an appropriately trained professional. Once treatment has been completed, if you are able to do so (and unless otherwise advised), aim to follow AICR’s cancer prevention recommendations for diet, physical activity and healthy weight maintenance.
And always remember — do not smoke or chew tobacco.