Study: Following American Cancer Society Guidelines Works

A study of nearly a half-million people has found that sticking to the American Cancer Society’s healthy behavior guidelines is linked with a lower risk of getting cancer, dying from cancer, and dying overall. The American Cancer Society recommends that people adopt a lifestyle that includes getting to and staying at a healthy weight, being physically active, eating healthy food, and limiting alcohol. The American Cancer Society also recommends staying away from tobacco.

Researchers from Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University followed 476,396 men and women ages 50 - 71 from the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study for an average of more than 10 years. They organized them into 5 groups depending on how closely they followed Society guidelines regarding body weight, physical activity, food choices, and alcohol. They adjusted their findings to account for cigarette smoking and other risk factors.

The researchers found that men with the highest scores – those who followed American Cancer Society guidelines most closely – had a 25% reduced risk of dying from cancer compared to men with the lowest scores. Women with the highest scores had a 24% reduced risk of dying from cancer compared to women with the lowest scores. In addition, men with the highest scores had a 10% reduced risk of developing cancer and women with the highest scores had a 19% reduced risk of developing cancer.

Sticking to the guidelines also reduced the risk of death from any cause. Men with the highest scores had a 26% reduced risk of death overall, while women with the highest scores had a 33% reduced risk of death overall.

According to Marji McCullough, SCD, RD, American Cancer Society strategic director of nutritional epidemiology, this is the third study and the most comprehensive one so far to examine the effect of the Society’s nutrition and physical activity guidelines for cancer prevention. “This study provides more evidence that following American Cancer Society guidelines for prevention not only reduces the risk of dying or developing cancer, but also reduces the risk of overall mortality,” said McCullough.

The study was published online January 7, 2015 in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Risk reduction by cancer type

The large size of the study enabled researchers to look at the way sticking to cancer prevention guidelines affected the risk of developing many specific cancer types.

They found men and women who followed the guidelines most closely had a 65% reduced risk for gallbladder cancer and a significantly reduced risk for colon cancer (men 48%, women 35%). In addition, women had a 60% reduced risk for endometrial cancer and men had a 48% reduced risk for liver cancer. Other significant reductions in risk were found for men and women in small intestine cancer, kidney cancer, leukemia, and Hodgkin lymphoma; for men in cancers of the esophagus, stomach, bladder, lung, and pancreas; and for breast cancer in women.

Unexpectedly one cancer type, melanoma in men, showed a reverse effect. The reasons for this were unclear.

Healthy lifestyle behaviors

McCullough says after avoiding tobacco, the next best way to prevent cancer and early death is to follow healthy lifestyle behaviors:

  • Get to and stay at a healthy weight.
  • Engage in physical activity. Adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity (equal to a brisk walk) or 75 minutes of vigorous activity (activity that makes your heartbeat and breathing faster, and makes you sweat) each week, preferably spread throughout the week. Kids should get at least 1 hour of moderate- or vigorous-intensity activity each day, with vigorous activity at least 3 days each week.
  • Eat a healthy diet that includes at least 2½ cups of vegetables and fruits each day. Limit red meat (beef, pork, and lamb) and processed meat (bacon, sausage, luncheon meats, and hot dogs). Choose foods made from whole grains instead of refined grains and eat fewer sweets.
  • Limit alcohol consumption. Men should have no more than 2 drinks a day and women no more than 1. One drink is equal to about 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Adherence to cancer prevention guidelines and cancer incidence, cancer mortality, and total mortality: a prospective cohort study. Published early online January 7, 2015 in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. First author Geoffrey C. Kabat, PhD, Yeshiva University, New York.

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