Now, experts have estimated that four in 10 cancer cases could be prevented simply by making small lifestyle changes.
The new statistics reveal that while people in the UK take certain cancer prevention strategies seriously - with 52% regularly protecting their skin from sun damage, 31% doing regular exercise and 41% refraining from smoking - only a quarter modify their food intake in a bid to reduce their cancer risk.
This is largely due to lack of awareness. And, of course, this needs to change.
While a balanced diet may help reduce overall disease risk, it doesn’t necessarily address the specifics of preventing individual cancers.
However, research indicates that key “cancer-preventing” nutrients can be obtained from a selection of everyday foods.
Here are four of them...
Why? Lycopene is an antioxidant found in tomatoes.
Studies suggest that women with higher circulating levels of lycopene may be at reduced risk of breast cancer.
Research has also found that a higher lycopene intake is associated with a lower number of prostate cancers.
It has also been studied in relation to liver cancer and found to have beneficial properties.
Curcumin, extracted from the Indian spice turmeric, appears to be useful in preventing breast cancer development.
It may also help reduce tumour formation where the colon is inflamed.
A fruit studied for its supportive health properties towards the prostate gland.
The positive effects are thought to be due to the polyphenol gallic acid compounds inside pomegranates.
The health benefits of EGCG (the most abundant antioxidant in green tea) have been associated with a reduction in colorectal cancer risk.
There is also much interest in the use of green tea to decrease progression of prostate cancer and to help prevent development of liver cancer.
“Diet may play a role in preventing pre-cancerous conditions becoming cancerous,” says Oncology dietitian, Tara Whyand. However she also admits that it can be difficult to obtain optimal doses from whole foods alone.
“Many studies have found that women with breast cancer are more likely to have poor intakes or low blood levels of lycopene," says Whyand.
"However, you would need to eat over 12 cooked plum tomatoes to consume 20mg lycopene – which is unrealistic for some, considering most people fail to get their 5 a day."