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Lifestyle factors cut cancer risk

A study released this week by the Journal of the American Medical Association says that says men and women can lower cancer risks significantly — predominantly colon and lung cancers — by exercising more, cutting back on alcohol, quitting smoking and maintaining a healthy weight.

These four "lifestyle factors" are "important for cancer development," says the study published online by the journal JAMA Oncology. It offers practical guidelines for consumers looking to be proactive with their health.

"A substantial cancer burden may be prevented through lifestyle modification," wrote Harvard University nutrition researchers Dr. Mingyang Song and Dr. Edward Giovannucci of their study.   "Primary prevention should remain a priority for cancer control." 

Their research paper is titled "Preventable Incidence and Mortality of Carcinoma Associated With Lifestyle Factors Among White Adults in the United States". Using chronic disease data from the Nurses’ Health Study, along with data from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, the researchers looked at 46,339 male and 89,571 female participants in two groups: those who had healthy lifestyles and low cancer risks and those who were considered high-risk.

The researchers defined a "healthy lifestyle pattern" as those who had never smoked or hadn't for five years; those with a body mass index lower than 27.5 (and at least 18.5); and those who engaged in vigorous or moderate intensity aerobic activity for 75 or 150 minutes weekly.

It found that by exercising 150 minutes each week and adhering to a healthy lifestyle, about half of all cancer deaths could be prevented. The researchers also determined as "unhealthy" those women who consumed, on average, more than one alcoholic drink daily, with more than two drinks daily on average considered unhealthy for men.

Among specific types of cancers, adapting the healthier lifestyle factors helped to cut breast cancer (15 percent), ovarian cancer (34 percent) and endometrial cancer (37 percent) in women, the study found. In addition, lung cancer and colorectal cancer risks in women were cut by 85 percent and 60 percent respectively.

In men, a healthier lifestyle also cut lung cancer risks by 90 percent and colorectal cancer by 60 percent. It also helped with prostate cancer risk (40 percent), kidney cancer (36 percent) and bladder cancer (62 percent.)

An estimated 600,000 people in the U.S. die from all types of cancer each year, with lung, breast and colorectal cancer the most common cases worldwide.

In 2016, an estimated 1,685,210 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed, according to the National Cancer Institute, a division of National Institutes of Health. Annual U.S. expenditures for cancer were about $125 billion in 2010. That figure was expected to hit $156 billion by 2020, the NCI said.

The institute also noted that more than a third — 39.6 percent — of men and women are likely to be diagnosed with cancer at some point across their lifespans.

But most recent data showed that treatment and research is helping people to live longer, the NCI found.

"The number of people living beyond a cancer diagnosis reached nearly 14.5 million in 2014 and is expected to rise to almost 19 million by 2024," it said.

Exercise's role in cancer prevention and staving off a diagnosis continues to garner headlines as research uncovers more information as to its benefits. A previous international study published May 16 by JAMA's internal medicine wing found a connection between moderate to vigorous exercise and its ability to lower risk of 13 types of cancer.

It looked at 1.4 million subjects in Europe and the United States, and found the highest impact on esophageal cancer, with exercise creating 42 percent lower risk. By turn, exercise created a 27 percent lower risk for liver cancer, a 26 percent lower risk for lung cancer and a 10 percent lowered risk for breast cancer.

"Health care professionals counseling inactive adults should emphasize that most of these associations were evident regardless of body size or smoking history, supporting broad generalizability of findings," the researchers wrote.