Healthy Eating and Living Can Indeed Reduce Women’s Risk of Getting Cancer

 Behind the Cancer Headlines®

July 8, 2004 


A study led by Mayo Clinic and involving nearly 30,000 women of post-menopausal age shows that following a healthier diet and lifestyle can indeed potentially reduce the risk of getting cancer and dying from it.  

"Our study found that women who followed only one or none of the nine recommended diet and lifestyle guidelines, developed by the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), had a 35 percent higher risk of developing cancer than women who practiced at least six of the recommendations," says James Cerhan, M.D., Ph.D., head of Mayo Clinic Cancer Center's genetic epidemiology and risk assessment program and leader of the research study.  

Cerhan also notes that women who followed only one or none of the recommendations had a 42 percent higher risk of dying from cancer.  

"Furthermore, we estimate that if all the women in the study group had never smoked and followed a majority of the guidelines, approximately 30 percent of new cancers and cancer deaths could have been prevented or delayed in the study group," he says.  

The study results were published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention. It is believed to be the first study to show the actual impact of following the AICR recommendations, which include not smoking, controlling body weight, exercising regularly and eating a balanced diet.  

"Our findings indicate that even at an older age, women who choose to eat and live healthier can reduce their risk of developing or dying from cancer," Cerhan says. "We think this is very positive, empowering news."  

According to the American Cancer Society, one in three women in the United States will develop cancer in her lifetime. This year, nearly 659,000 women will be diagnosed with cancer, not including non-melanoma skin cancers. Cancer is the second leading cause of death in women overall, and the leading cause of death among women between the ages of 40 and 79.  

The study examined self-reported information from 29,564 Iowa women about their diet and lifestyle habits. The information was gathered in 1986; the women were between 55 and 69 years of age. The women were then followed for 13 years to determine what effect the recommended diet and lifestyle practices had on reducing the risk of them getting cancer and dying from it.  

The nine diet and lifestyle recommendations studied included:  

·        Not smoking

·        Having a maximum body mass index of less than 25 kg/m2 and limiting weight gain to no more than 11 pounds since age 18

·        Engaging in daily moderate and weekly vigorous physical activity

·        Eating five or more servings of vegetables and fruits each day

·        Eating seven or more portions of complex carbohydrates such as whole grains and cereals each day; limiting processed foods and refined sugar

·        Limiting alcoholic drinks to one drink a day for women

·        Limiting red meat to about three ounces daily

·        Limiting intake of fatty foods, particularly those of animal origin

·        Limiting intake of salted foods and use of salt in cooking 

"These diet and lifestyle recommendations have been emphasized for years by doctors and health-related organizations for people 18 years of age and older in our country," says Cerhan. "We think it's highly plausible that our findings could be replicated in a broader population, including men and young adults, and be an effective and cost-efficient way to reduce the impact of cancer on individuals and on our communities."  



Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, July 7, 2004

Mayo Clinic (