In light of an important study appearing in an issue of the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), researchers associated with the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) reminded the public that cancer is a disease that is largely preventable through changes to the diet, maintenance of a healthy weight, regular exercise, and avoidance of tobacco.
The NEJM study combined data on over 44,788 pairs of twins in Finland, Sweden and Denmark, where government twin registries make it easier for scientists to research twins. The study set out to assess the relative importance of genetic (i.e., inherited) and environmental (i.e., associated with diet, lifestyle and other factors). The researchers concluded that an individual's environment makes a much larger contribution to his or her cancer risk than do inherited genetic factors.
"This study confirms something we have been saying for two decades: changes in your everyday life can radically reduce your risk of cancer," said Ritva Butrum, Ph.D., AICR Vice President for Research. (Dr. Butrum happens herself to be an identical twin of Finnish birth. She did not, however, participate in the study.)
The NEJM study adds to the consistent and convincing data telling us that cancer is a largely preventable disease, Dr. Butrum said. In fact, AICR researchers estimate that 60 to 70 percent of all cancers can be avoided by making modest, ongoing changes in what we eat and how we live.
"But now that we know this," she asked, "what do we do about it? How do we transform the continually mounting scientific evidence into simple, practical advice for lowering risk?"
The answer, according to the cancer research organization, is to shift to a largely plant-based diet, eating plenty of vegetables and fruits, maintain a healthy weight and be physically active, drink alcohol only in moderation, if at all, select foods low in fat and salt, and do not use tobacco in any form.
AICR also reminds the public that changing your diet, rather than adding vitamins or nutritional supplements, is the key to maintaining good health.