A study of nearly a half-million Americans has found that following cancer prevention guidelines from the American Cancer Society may modestly reduce your overall risk of developing cancer and have a greater impact on reducing your overall risk of dying early. Having a healthy body weight and staying active appeared to have the most positive impact.
The observational study -- the largest of its kind -- by researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University and its Albert Einstein Cancer Center, found that sticking with the guidelines seems to significantly reduce the risk for developing certain cancers, particularly colorectal cancer in both sexes and endometrial cancer in women.
In 2001, the American Cancer Society (ACS) issued guidelines for preventing cancer. The guidelines recommended that people avoid smoking, achieve and maintain a healthy weight throughout life, be physically active, and eat a healthy diet emphasizing plant foods.
The Einstein researchers stratified study participants into five groups based on how closely they adhered to the ACS guidelines. Men who adhered most closely to the guidelines had a reduced overall risk of developing cancer of 10 percent compared to men with the lowest adherence. For women, the corresponding reduction in overall cancer risk was 19 percent. Men with the highest adherence had a reduced risk of dying from cancer of 25 percent; for women, the reduction was 24 percent. Risk for cancers at various sites varied widely.
The findings suggest the closer you follow the ACS guidelines, the greater the benefit for preventing certain types of cancer.
Previous studies have shown that eating a balanced diet and maintaining a healthy body weight can reduce one's risk of developing or dying from cancer. However, these studies were relatively small and few looked at the effects on specific types of cancer, which limited the usefulness of the results.
For a more thorough look at the impact of cancer prevention guidelines, the Einstein team studied data from the National Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and Health Study. In 1995-96, the study collected questionnaires from more than 500,000 people that asked about various aspects of diet and lifestyle. Study participants were between the ages of 50 and 71 at the time of enrollment. They were followed for a median of 10.5 years to determine cancer incidence, 12.6 years to determine cancer mortality and 13.6 years to determine total mortality.
Participants with a previous history of cancer were excluded from the study. Those subjects were divided into five groups based on how closely they adhered to the ACS guidelines in terms of their body mass index (BMI), physical activity, alcohol intake, and several aspects of diet.
The researchers also examined the risk of developing cancer at 25 specific sites. They found 14 sites where people adhering most closely to the guidelines had reduced risks for developing cancer compared to those in the lowest-adherence group. Notable examples were gallbladder cancer (65 percent reduced risk, both sexes combined), endometrial cancer (60 percent), liver (48 percent, males) colon cancer (48 percent, males; 35 percent, females) and rectal cancer (40 percent, males; 36 percent, females).
As for the risk of dying from all causes including cancer, men who adhered most closely to the guidelines had a reduced overall mortality risk of 26 percent, while the most adherent women had a reduced overall mortality risk of 33 percent.
For reducing overall mortality, a healthy body weight and engaging in physical activity ranked as the two most important factors for both men and women.
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