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37,000 Cancer Cases Are Preventable Annually

A first-ever study* of cancer incidence and preventable causes in Australia has found that about 37,000 cancer cases could be prevented largely through lifestyle change.

Funded by Cancer Council Australia and conducted by QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, the research revealed that roughly one third of cancers nationally could be prevented.

Cancer Council Australia CEO Professor Sanchia Aranda said the ground-breaking research should encourage us to be positive about reducing our risk.

“Of 13 identified risk factors, smoking, UV radiation, body weight, poor diet and alcohol caused around 90 per cent of all preventable cancers,” Professor Aranda said.

“It’s time to bust the myth that everything gives you cancer and do more to reduce the risks that we know cause cancer.

“The association with smoking is well-known, but the study shows that 7000 new cancer cases a year are also attributable to low fruit and vegetable intake, low fibre intake and eating excess red meat. Eating more fruit, vegetables and wholegrains is a positive step we can take to reduce our risk. These healthier choices also reduce obesity, the cause of 3900 cancer cases in its own right, and balance overconsumption of red and processed meat, which account for a further 2600 cases.

“People are confused about fad diets and mixed health messages, but the evidence is clear that a diet rich in vegetables, fruit and whole grains, with other foods consumed in moderation, will cut your cancer risk. Now we can back that advice with data on cancer case numbers, to emphasise why we urge people to adopt a cancer-smart lifestyle.”

Professor Aranda said the study estimated incidence attributable to risk factors as specific as the 3200 cancer cases caused by alcohol and the 1550 cases caused by low fruit consumption alone.

Professor David Whiteman from QIMR Berghofer, who led the study, said the risk factors considered in the report had to meet three conditions – be classified by the World Health Organisation or the World Cancer Research Fund as a cause of at least one cancer type; be modifiable; and there had to be reliable data on numbers of Australians exposed to the risk factor. He said there was sufficient evidence to associate 13 different factors with 24 cancer types, including some cancers with high mortality.

“In addition to lifestyle risk factors, we analysed the impact of hepatitis B and C, human papillomavirus, HIV and Epstein Barr virus,” Professor Whiteman said. “Hopefully the study will help guide lifestyle change and health policy in Australia, and contribute to the international evidence on cancer prevention.”