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A recent review of the research looking at lifestyle-based guidelines for reducing cancer risk has encouragingly found that greater adherence to the current recommendations (see “Cancer Prevention Recommendations”, below) is associated with a lower risk of developing colorectal cancer.

In 2007, the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) and American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) produced a set of 10 lifestyle‐based guidelines aimed at reducing the worldwide risk of cancer, for both individuals and at a population level. The guidelines, known as the Cancer Prevention Recommendations, were updated in 2018 based on current scientific evidence, and focus on dietary changes, weight management, physical activity and limiting alcohol consumption.

Published earlier this year in the journal Cancer, a group of researchers conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of studies investigating the association between adherence to the Cancer Prevention Recommendations and the risk of developing cancer. This included 18 studies, with 5 studies looking specifically at colorectal cancer. They found that each 1-point increment in adherence score to the recommendations was associated with a 12% reduction in the risk of developing colorectal cancer. When study participants were categorised according to their level of adherence to the recommendations, those with the highest adherence scores had a 44% lower risk of colorectal cancer compared to those with the lowest scores. In the studies that looked at colon and rectal cancers separately, the findings were similar for both.

The researchers also found a lower risk of breast and lung cancers in those who more closely followed at the Cancer Prevention Recommendations. They conclude their findings provide strong evidence that following the 2018 WCRF/AICR Cancer Prevention Recommendations reduces the risk of cancer, particularly colorectal, breast and lung cancers.

If you are interested in reducing your risk of developing cancer, here are the Cancer Prevention Recommendations from the WCRF/AICR:

  • Be a healthy weight: Keep your weight within the healthy range and avoid weight gain in adult life.
  • Be physically active: Be physically active as part of everyday life – walk more and sit less.
  • Eat a better diet: Make wholegrains, vegetables, fruit and beans (legumes) a major part of your usual diet.
  • Limit fast foods: Limit consumption of ‘fast foods’ and other processed foods high in fat, starches, or sugars.
  • Limit red and processed meat: Eat no more than moderate amounts of red meats, such as beef, pork and lamb. Eat little, if any, processed meats.
  • Cut down on sugary drinks: Limit sugar-sweetened drinks, drink mostly water and unsweetened drinks.
  • Limit alcohol consumption: For cancer prevention, it is best not to drink alcohol.
  • Don’t use supplements for cancer prevention: Aim to meet nutritional needs through diet alone.
  • Breastfeed your baby, if you can: Breastfeeding is good for both mother and baby
  • After a cancer diagnosis: Follow our recommendations, if you are able to.

In addition to the above recommendations, not smoking, avoiding exposure to tobacco smoke and excess sun are also important in reducing cancer risk.
You can find more information, including further details about each of these recommendations, on the World Cancer Research Fund website.

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Dr Kate Marsh is an is an Advanced Accredited Practising Dietitian, Credentialled Diabetes Educator and health and medical writer with a particular interest in plant-based eating and the dietary management of diabetes and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

Contact: Via her website