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Lifestyle changes can cut some cancer risks by half, says longevity columnist

Global cancer statistics can be alarming but a longevity columnist says it’s possible to reduce the risk of some types of cancers with lifestyle changes.

500 Canadians are diagnosed with the disease every day, but there is hope

Research shows it's possible to reduce to the risk of some types of cancers by almost half with changes to diet and physical activity. (Rebecca Blackwell/The Associated Press/Bob Mack/Florida Times-Union/The Associated Press)

Global cancer statistics can be alarming but a longevity columnist says it's possible to reduce the risk of some types of cancers with lifestyle changes.

"The estimates are really encouraging I think," Sharon Basaraba told Daybreak Alberta this week.

"They say anywhere from one-third to almost half of cancers can be prevented through lifestyle factors. That is huge."

But the cancer numbers are pretty huge too.

Sharon Basaraba says research from the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research suggest prevention can be possible. (Twitter)

Globally, more than eight million people die from cancer every year and about half die prematurely, between the ages of 30 and 69.

In Canada, more than 500 people are diagnosed every day.

Basaraba says, however, simple changes can lead to better outcomes.

She says research from the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research suggest prevention can be possible.

"Together the agencies estimate that about a third of the most common cancers can be prevented through the big three: maintaining a healthy weight, eating a nutritious diet and being physically active," she explains.

More locally, Alberta epidemiologists Christine Friedenreich and Darren Brenner have found room for optimism too.

"Their research shows that the proportions of cancer that can be avoided jumps to almost half if smoking and some other exposures like hormone replacement are taken into account," said Basaraba.

But people need to take control of dietary and physical activity choices, she adds.

The risks of "lung cancer, breast, colorectal, melanoma, endometrial, and kidney are the most common ones," that can be reduced by maintaining a healthy weight, Basaraba said.

"Most people think of heart disease as being the big risk with obesity or being overweight but fat on our bodies isn't just sitting there inert, especially in our mid sections, if it is around our abdominal organs. It is actually releasing hormones into the blood stream [which] can really increase the risk of cancers like endometrial, colon and kidney cancers."

Moving more has its health advantages.

"Physical activity, the recommendation is 30 minutes, five-days-a-week, but any activity contributes to avoiding things like lung, breast, colon and ovarian cancers. It doesn't mean exercise necessarily, it is movement of any kind. Maybe that is housework if you are physical, walking more at work or in recreational times, standing more and sitting less," she said.

Diet is also critical.

"The advice is eat a nutritious, varied diet," Basaraba explains.

"It is known that low income communities, Indigenous communities, are at greater risk on the diet front. It might not be easy but at least it is not a complicated list. Aim for five servings of fruits and vegetables each day for the fibre they contain as well. Consume as little added sugar and salt as possible. Limit red meat to a couple of servings per week. Avoid processed meat like bacon, deli meat, salami."

Despite certain alcoholic beverages getting some positive press, like red wine, Basaraba says from a cancer point of view, it's best to stay on the wagon.

"The recommendations unfortunately also say, avoid alcohol altogether. Alcohol is a known carcinogen," she said.


With files from Daybreak Alberta

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