Study reveals 40 per cent of cancer deaths preventable

cancer cells grapgic
Cancer is one of the world's leading causes of death.

An Australian study has examined the eight leading causes of cancer around the world and found that nearly 40 per cent of all cancer deaths are preventable. 

Researchers from the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute examined eight groups of “modifiable” risk factors that international research bodies have declared to be causes of cancer.

They discovered that simple lifestyle changes could be the key to preventing thousands of cancer deaths each year.

The research team analysed eight modifiable health factors that cause cancer:

Cause of cancer deaths by percentage

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  • Smoking 20.3%
  • Obesity 5%
  • Poor diet 5%
  • Infections 5%
  • UV radiation 3.2%
  • Alcohol 2.4%
  • Not exercising 0.8%
  • Hormones 0.4%

They found the modifiable factors were responsible for 41 per cent of cancer deaths among Australian men and 34 per cent of cancer deaths in women.

“In line with these findings, the cancers responsible for the largest numbers of potentially preventable deaths were lung, bowel, cutaneous (skin) melanoma, liver, and stomach cancers,” said head of QIMR Berghofer’s Cancer Control Group, Professor David Whiteman.

“The proportions of potentially preventable cancer deaths are higher among men than women because, on average, men smoke and drink more, spend more time in the sun, and don’t eat as well.”

Experts have long heralded the benefit of improved lifestyle changes to help with overall health, but their advice often falls flat.

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Obesity rates are on the rise throughout the world — it tripled between 1975-2016 — and while smoking rates are down worldwide, more than 1.1 billion people still light up regularly.

Professor Whiteman said thousands of lives could be saved if people listened to modern medical advice.

“While in many cases cancer is tragically unavoidable, this study highlights what we’ve known for years: cancer isn’t always a matter of genetics or bad luck,” he said.

“This study shows that in theory, about 17,000 cancer deaths [in Australia] could be prevented each year if people followed accepted guidelines to minimise their exposure to risk factors.

“There is a lot people can do to reduce their risk of developing and dying from cancer.”

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“If you currently smoke, seek advice on how to quit. Limit your intake of red and processed meats and look for opportunities to incorporate extra fruit, vegetables and fibre into your diet. Most Australians don’t get enough exercise, so start introducing some simple physical activity into your routine and aim to maintain a healthy bodyweight. Finally, always remember to protect yourself from the sun.

“Even small improvements in these areas would substantially reduce the number of people who die prematurely from cancer each year.”

Have you changed your lifestyle habits over the years to improve your health?