Adopting a healthy lifestyle could prevent a huge number of cancer cases and possibly save tens of thousands of lives in the U.S, according to a study published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School looked at 89,571 Caucasian women and 46,399 Caucasian men enrolled in two ongoing cohorts to see how much a healthy lifestyle could reduce cancer risk.
Of the people studied, 16,531 women and 11,731 men had a healthy lifestyle pattern and were determined to be low risk. These healthy patterns included moderate or no drinking, a BMI between 18.5 and 27.5, weekly physical activity that included at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity, and either never having smoked or currently not being a smoker.
The authors then studied cancer rates among the high- and low-risk groups. They found that overall, 20 percent to 40 percent of carcinoma cases and about half of carcinoma deaths can be potentially prevented through lifestyle modification. Carcinomas form in the lining of certain tissues or organs and is the most common form of cancer.
The authors clarify that more study needs to be done to ensure these findings translate to other ethnic groups.
"These findings reinforce the predominate importance of lifestyle factors in determining cancer risk. Therefore, primary prevention should remain a priority for cancer control," the authors concluded in the study.
Dr. Ehsan Malek, a hematologist and oncologist at University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center in Cleveland, said this can help the medical community understand cancer risk and how to hopefully prevent future cases.
"We didn’t know what portion of cancer is caused by environmental cancer and opposed to the gene, this study highlights the importance of lifestyle change," said Malek, who was not involved in this study. "We have a lot to do. We have the potential to change the prospect of cancer in the U.S."
Studies like this can help health officials allocate resources to encourage healthier lifestyles and prevent future cancer cases, Malek said, noting that despite new advancements in treatment, these medications can incur a high cost.
"We have had a tremendously amount of success and prolonged survival of cancer patients," Malek said. "However, the cost of cancer treatment stays very high. Cancer is the first reason for bankruptcy in this country."
He pointed out that currently officials have estimated that every $1 spent on prevention may translate to $10 saved on treatment.
"We have no other option. We have to work on prevention more than treatment based on cost-benefit issues," Malek said. "A slight change can translate to huge reduction of risk."