A healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise and eating nutritiously can lower your risk of developing cancer by as much as 45 percent, a new evidence review concludes.
The review also found that people who followed cancer prevention guidelines for diet and activity were up to 61 percent less likely to die from cancer, the researchers reported.
“Overall, we saw there is quite a reduction in getting cancer or dying from cancer if you follow [cancer-prevention] guidelines,” said lead researcher Lindsay Kohler, a doctoral student in epidemiology at the University of Arizona’s Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health.
Healthy living is particularly effective in preventing breast, endometrial and colon cancer, Kohler and her colleagues found.
Living right can reduce risk of breast cancer by 19 percent to 60 percent, endometrial cancer by 23 percent to 60 percent, and colon cancer in men and women by 27 percent to 52 percent, they reported.
“Those cancers have been shown in other studies to be related to obesity,” Kohler said. “Most of these guidelines are going to help prevent you from being obese.”
Nearly 1.7 million new cases of cancer are expected to occur in the United States in 2016, and about 596,000 people are expected to die from cancer, the researchers said in background information.
Eating poorly, drinking too much alcohol, carrying too much weight and being a couch potato could account for more than 20 percent of cancer cases, researchers said.
To see whether a healthy lifestyle would result in fewer cancer cases and deaths, the researchers reviewed 12 studies that examined the effectiveness of prevention guidelines published by the American Cancer Society and the World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research.
These guidelines recommend lifestyle changes such as maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, choosing whole grains over refined grains, limiting consumption of processed or red meat, avoiding excess alcohol, and eating five or more servings of a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables every day.
Health officials believe sticking as tightly as possible to these cancer prevention guidelines will provide the most benefit, said Marjorie McCullough, strategic director of nutritional epidemiology for the American Cancer Society.
“The benefits really add up,” McCullough said. “The guidelines themselves are based on the current evidence of what we know to lower the risk of cancer. Each of these components are important. The more guidelines that are followed, the lower the cancer risk.”
The studies included in the new evidence review bear this out, Kohler said.
For example, one study found that a person’s risk of breast cancer decreased 11 percent for each additional recommendation they adopted, she said. Someone eating right would lower their risk by 11 percent, while eating right and exercising would lower risk by 22 percent.
“Even following some guidelines is going to make a difference,” Kohler said.
While these guidelines reduce overall cancer risk, some cancers did not respond as well as others. The review found they did not seem to reduce risk of ovarian or prostate cancer, and they only seemed to benefit men when it came to lung cancer, Kohler said.
Kohler noted that these sort of lifestyle changes also have been shown to reduce heart disease and improve a person’s overall health, making them worth pursuing for more than just cancer prevention.
“If you follow as many of these guidelines as you can, you’re going to improve your life overall,” she said.
Findings from the study were published online June 23 in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.
For more on cancer prevention, visit the American Cancer Society.