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Thousands of cancer cases linked to this preventable cause

By Mary Daly From Care2

In 2019, there will be an estimated 1.8 million new cancer cases diagnosed and roughly 600,000 cancer deaths in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. Both genetics and lifestyle factors contribute to a person’s cancer risk — meaning some cases might be preventable.

A new study underscores that point. It linked thousands of cancer cases in the U.S. to a certain lifestyle factor, and the researchers highlighted simple modifications people can make to reduce their cancer risk. Here’s what they found.


burger and fries

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The new study, published in JNCI Cancer Spectrum, analyzed cancer cases in relation to one common factor: a poor diet. “Diet is an important risk factor for cancer that is amenable to intervention,” the study says. “Estimating the cancer burden associated with diet informs evidence-based priorities for nutrition policies to reduce cancer burden in the US.”

The researchers used models with representative data of U.S. adults regarding diet and cancer incidence to estimate the annual number of cancer cases that could be attributable to a suboptimal diet. Dietary data was from two National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey cycles (2013-2014 and 2015-2016), and cancer data was recorded in 2015 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Cancer Institute.

Moreover, the study defined an optimal diet based on World Health Organization research. It looked at people’s intake of whole grains, dairy, fruits, vegetables, red meat, processed meat and sugar-sweetened beverages.

The findings were significant.

The study found 80,110 cancer cases reported in 2015 could have been attributable to diet-related factors. That’s roughly 5.2 percent of all the cancer cases reported that year. “This is comparable to the cancer burden associated with alcohol, which is 4 to 6 percent,” according to a news release on the study. “Excessive body weight, meanwhile, is associated with 7 to 8 percent of the cancer burden, and physical inactivity is associated with 2 to 3 percent.”

These were some of the study’s main findings:

  • Colorectal cancer had the highest proportion of all the diet-related cancer cases at 38.3 percent. This was followed by cancer of the mouth, pharynx and larynx; stomach; uterus; esophagus; kidney; liver; gallbladder; breast; pancreas; multiple myeloma; prostate; thyroid; and ovary.
  • Insufficient whole grain intake was associated with the most cancer cases, followed by low dairy intake, high processed meat intake, low vegetable intake, low fruit intake, high red meat intake and high sugar-sweetened beverage intake.
  • Of all the diet-linked cancer cases, roughly 16 percent were attributable to “obesity-mediated pathways.”
  • The top dietary factors linked to cancer cases through obesity were low fruit intake and high sugar-sweetened beverage consumption.
  • Men experienced more diet-linked cancer cases than women.
  • Adults ages 45 to 64 had the highest risk of diet-linked cancer.
  • Certain racial and ethnic groups — including non-Hispanic blacks, Hispanics and others — had a higher risk of cancer attributable to a poor diet versus non-Hispanic whites.

This study is important because it’s one of the few that focuses on a cancer risk factor that’s modifiable. “Our findings underscore the needs for reducing cancer burden and disparity in the US by improving the intake of key food groups and nutrients of Americans,” the study says.


Whole wheat penne pasta primavera

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The main dietary factors the researchers linked to a higher cancer risk were:

  • Low whole grain intake
  • Low dairy intake
  • Low fruit and vegetable intake
  • High red and processed meat intake
  • High sugar-sweetened beverage intake

So that begs the question: What should you eat to mitigate your diet-associated cancer risk?

Well, for starters, the American Cancer Society recommends taking a close look at your current diet. Read food labels. Become familiar with correct portion sizes and calorie contents. And know what terms, such as “low-fat,” actually mean.

The American Cancer Society also addresses some of the dietary factors brought up in the study. For whole grains, the group says to “choose whole-grain breads, pasta, and cereals (such as barley and oats) instead of breads, cereals, and pasta made from refined grains, and brown rice instead of white rice.”

Furthermore, the group recommends including fruits and vegetables at every meal and snack to ensure you’re getting enough each day. “Emphasize whole fruits and vegetables; choose 100% juice if you drink vegetable or fruit juices,” it says.

It also suggests swapping out red and processed meat for fish or poultry. Even better, get your protein from nutrient-dense plant sources, which can further lower your cancer risk. And avoid frying or charbroiling cooking methods.

Finally, to maintain a healthy weight — and to lower your cancer risk associated with obesity — limit your intake of calorie-dense foods, including sugary beverages. Look out for heavy sauces and added sugar in foods, as well. These foods often have little nutrition to fortify your body against disease — and they might up your risk for several health problems.

On the flip side, there are many healthy foods that might be able to lower your cancer risk. For instance, another recent study found a compound in broccoli might act as a tumor suppressor. And cruciferous vegetables long have been associated with a decreased cancer risk.

Here are some other foods that research has shown might be able to reduce your risk of developing cancer, according to Healthline:

  • Beans
  • Berries
  • Carrots
  • Cinnamon
  • Citrus fruits
  • Flaxseed
  • Garlic
  • Nuts
  • Olive oil
  • Tomatoes
  • Turmeric

The bottom line is the fuel you give your body is a huge factor not only for your day-to-day performance, but also for your long-term health and well-being. And while diet has the potential to cause diseases, such as cancer, it also can be the key to preventing some ailments. So the next time you load up your plate, choose wisely.

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