Lifestyle and Cancer – What do we know? A Guide for Health Professionals

In Australia, one in two men and one in three women will be diagnosed with cancer before the age of 85. The number of new cancer cases diagnosed each year is rising. Recently, cancer has overtaken heart disease as the greatest burden (in terms of death and disability) of disease and injury in Australia. About 39,000 people die from cancer in Australia each year. The most commonly diagnosed cancers are prostate, colorectal, breast, melanoma and lung cancer.

Evidence is strengthening that body weight, physical activity and dietary factors influence the risk of some cancers. In 2003, the World Health Organisation Report on Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases confirmed that poor diet and lack of physical activity are second only to tobacco as theoretically preventable causes of cancer. Appropriate diet, body weight and physical activity could prevent approximately one third of the most common cancers in industrialised countries.

In 2007, the World Cancer Research Fund found that the evidence that body weight and physical inactivity increased cancer risk was particularly strong.

Alcohol is a risk factor for cancer of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, breast, colorectum and liver.

Key Messages

  • Cancer is a major cause of illness and death in Australia
  • Lifestyle factors, such as overweight, poor diet and lack of physical activity are second only to tobacco as theoretically preventable causes of cancer
  • There is convincing evidence that being overweight or obese increases the risk of developing some of the most common cancers
  • There is convincing evidence that undertaking regular physical activity reduces the risk of developing some of the most common cancers
  • There is convincing evidence that alcohol consumption increases the risk of developing some cancers, including breast cancer
  • It is likely that eating more vegetables and fruit will reduce the risk of developing some cancers
  • The lifestyle recommendations for reducing cancer risk are consistent with guidelines for heart disease and diabetes prevention, as well as for general good health

Maintaining a healthy weight, regular physical activity and good nutrition can help prevent cancer.

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Lifestyle and Cancer What do we Know? A Guide for Health Professionals