A leading health body has warned lifestyles dominated by little exercise and lots of processed food is fuelling obesity and a dramatic increase in cancer rates worldwide.
The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) has issued nine tips to help the public prevent cancer, and their round-up includes switching sugary drinks for water, ditching processed meat like bacon, walking more and sitting less.
Around one in six deaths annually worldwide are caused by cancer, and as more countries adopt Western lifestyles, the number of new cases is expected to rise by 58% to 24 million globally by 2035.
So what can we be doing to try and prevent it?
The new report from WCRF, entitled ‘Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Cancer: a Global Perspective’, is the result of an ongoing review of decades of evidence by world-renowned, independent experts from across the globe. It recommends for people to:
1. Maintain a healthy weight.
Keep your weight within the healthy range and avoid weight gain in adult life. Being overweight or obese has been linked to 12 cancers: liver, ovary, prostate (advanced), stomach, mouth and throat, bowel, breast, gallbladder, kidney, oesophagus, pancreas and womb cancer.
2. Be physically active.
WCRF said you should be physically active as part of everyday life – so walk more and sit less. Being physically active can help protect directly against three cancers: bowel, breast cancer and womb cancer.
3. Eat a diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, fruit and beans.
The health body advises making these a major part of your daily diet.
4. Limit consumption of ‘fast foods’ and other processed foods high in fat, starches or sugars.
This helps control calorie intake and maintain a healthy weight.
5. Limit consumption of red and processed meat.
Eat no more than moderate amounts of red meat, such as beef, pork and lamb. Eat little, if any, processed meat like ham.
6. Limit consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks.
Drink mostly water and unsweetened drinks.
7. Limit alcohol consumption.
For cancer prevention, it’s best not to drink alcohol. Drinking alcohol is strongly linked to an increased risk of six cancers.
8. Avoid using supplements for cancer prevention.
Aim to meet nutritional needs through diet alone, it advises.
9. Breastfeed your baby, if you can.
WCRF said this is “good for both mother and baby”.
Dr Giota Mitrou, WCRF’s director of research funding and external relations, said: “Our research shows it’s unlikely that specific foods or nutrients are important single factors in causing or protecting against cancer. Rather, different patterns of diet and physical activity throughout life combine to make you more or less susceptible to cancer.
“Our Cancer Prevention Recommendations work together as a blueprint to beat cancer that people can trust, because they are based on evidence that has now proved consistent for decades.”
WCRF said while these tips can’t guarantee a cancer-free existence, the evidence suggests they can certainly play a part in reducing risk.
It also suggested that people follow the above recommendations after a cancer diagnosis, provided their doctor approves, and said people should quit smoking and avoid other exposure to tobacco and excess sun to reduce cancer risk.
Eluned Hughes, head of public health and information at Breast Cancer Now, said: “This crucial review highlights ten vital steps than many of us can take to actively reduce our risk of developing cancer. With cancer incidence continuing to rise, we need to take every available opportunity to prevent more cases – and the evidence suggests we could prevent up to 50% of all cancers by supporting people to live healthier lifestyles.
“With more women being diagnosed with breast cancer than ever before, we now need to see renewed focus and funding from UK Governments on promoting sustainable healthy lifestyles. While the evidence provides clear steps we can take to help prevent the disease, it’s essential that women that want to reduce their risk are fully supported. We’d encourage anyone who is worried about the impact of their lifestyle on their cancer risk to speak to their GP.”