A new study published in the journal Science Translational Medicine reports that half of all cancers are preventable with simple positive lifestyle choices.

Study co-author, Dr. Graham A. Colditz, associate director of prevention and control at the Siteman Cancer Center in St. Louis told Eureka Alert, ”We actually have an enormous amount of data about the causes and preventability of cancer.”

The epidemiologist noted that the study showed just how much lifestyle choices play a role in causing cancer.

The popular book The Emperor of all Maladies talks of how cancer ”is stitched into our genome. Mutations accumulate in these genes when DNA is damaged by carcinogens, but also by seemingly random errors in copying genes when cells divide.” Author Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee added that this DNA damage can be prevented, and today, we know just how to do that.

Smoking is an unhealthy lifestyle choice that contributes to at least a third of all cancer diagnoses — this includes not only lung cancer, but also kidney, bladder, head and neck cancers.

There is also research that shows lowering your alcohol intake and exercising more often can lower breast cancer risk.

And not surprisingly, melanoma, the deadly skin cancer that has risen by 2.5 per cent in women and 2.3 per cent in men since 1999, can be prevented by avoiding tanning beds and being diligent with wearing sunscreen.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer notes that as many as a third of all cancers are connected to bad lifestyle habits such as an unhealthy diet, obesity and lack of exercise. Obesity is shown to account for 20 per cent of all cancer cases, and creates an increased risk for both colorectal and postmenopausal breast cancers.

LSU Health Sciences Center in New Orleans reported that the occurrence of head and neck cancer has risen in those infected with HPV (Human Papilloma Virus), which contributes to cervical, anal, oral and nasal cancers. The HPV vaccine is a recent tool that can be used for prevention, and its use could help halt these cancer occurrences. Of course, it is most effective when given to young people before they have engaged in sexual activity.

The Canadian Cancer Society says that 40 per cent of all women, and 45 per cent of all men will develop cancer in their lifetime. The best way to protect yourself from being part of that statistic is to eat healthfully, wear sunscreen, exercise, and to not smoke. You can also ask your doctor about taking a daily dose of low-dose aspirin which has shown to reduce the risk of cancer and stop it from spreading.

Sources: Canadian Cancer Society, LFPress, Eureka Alert

Photo ©iStockphoto.com/ John Pitcher

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Lisa Lagace