10 Steps to Reducing Cancer Risk

CC BY 2.0. Curtis MacNewton

The World Cancer Research Fund has released its 'blueprint to beat cancer,' which includes key lifestyle changes to help ensure lasting health.

Want to reduce your risk of getting cancer? The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) says you should cut alcohol and processed meats from your diet. This advice comes from its newly published blueprint to beat cancer, which includes a 10-point plan for various lifestyle changes that can reduce your cancer risk by up to 40 percent.

The blueprint was created by reviewing "all published literature on the links between diet, physical activity and cancer, in studies involving 51 million people, 3.5 million of whom developed cancer" (via The Telegraph). The researchers emphasize that the understanding of what causes cancer has deepened significantly over the past decade. Dr. Giota Mitou, the WCRF's director of research funding, said,

"We have very strong evidence linking overweight and obesity to cancer which has grown over the past decade. So now we have 12 cancer sites linked to being overweight and obese -- this is five more than 10 years ago."

So, what's a person to do? Here is an overview of the 10-point plan.

1. Be a healthy weight. Keep your weight within the healthy range and avoid weight gain in adult life. The plan specifically urges people to cut down on sedentary screen time.

2. Be physically active. Be physically active as part of everyday life – walk more and sit less. Aim for 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity activity, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week.

3. Eat a diet rich in wholegrains, vegetables, fruit and beans. Make wholegrains, vegetables, fruit, and pulses (legumes) such as beans and lentils a major part of your usual daily diet.

4. Limit consumption of ‘fast foods’ and other processed foods high in fat, starches or sugars. Limiting these foods helps control calorie intake and maintain a healthy weight. Specifically, be wary of chocolates, pastries, chips, cookies, cake, ice cream, fries, burgers, and fried chicken.

5. Limit consumption of red and processed meat. Eat no more than 3 servings of red meat, such as beef, pork and lamb, each week. Eat little, if any, processed meat, which has been linked to bowel cancer.

6. Limit consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks. There is strong evidence that these contribute to weight gain. Drink mostly water and unsweetened drinks. Avoid sugary iced coffees and fruit juices.

7. Limit alcohol consumption. For cancer prevention, it’s best not to drink alcohol, but you can also reduce consumption by choosing smaller serving sizes, alternating with non-alcoholic beverages, diluting, and committing to alcohol-free days.

8. Do not use supplements for cancer prevention. Aim to meet nutritional needs through diet alone. Supplements should be reserved for people with certain conditions, such as the elderly who are housebound and cannot eat much, children under 5, new mothers, certain cancer survivors, and people not exposed to sunlight.

9. For mothers: breastfeed your baby, if you can. Breastfeeding is good for both mother and baby. It has been shown to lower the levels of cancer-related hormones in the body and to get rid of cells in the breast that have DNA damage.

10. After a cancer diagnosis: follow our recommendations, if you can. Check with your health professional what is right for you. These recommendations will benefit your health all around, also reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Little daily lifestyle habits should be one's focal point, which means that the occasional indulgence does not hurt. Says Professor Linda Bauld, a prevention expert at Cancer Research UK:

"This report supports what we already know – the key to cutting cancer risk is through our way of life. Not smoking, keeping a healthy weight, eating and drinking healthily and getting more active all helps. A bacon butty [sandwich] or glass of wine every so often isn't anything to worry about, it's the things you do every day that matter most. Building small changes into your daily life, like choosing sugar-free drinks or walking more, can add up to a big difference for your health."