World Cancer Day was celebrated this week and focused on dispelling myths about cancer. One of the key myths targeted was ‘There is nothing I can do about cancer.’
Unfortunately, according to a survey conducted by World Cancer Research Fund, around half of Britons don’t recognise the importance of diet in protecting against cancer, demonstrating that many of the myths about the disease are still widely believed. The survey shows that a high proportion of people do not know about the links between cancer and body weight (59%), processed meat (62%) and physical activity (66%). A third incorrectly believe that the chances of getting cancer are mainly due to family history of the disease even though only 5-10% of cancers are linked to inherited genes.
Many people seem to feel that getting cancer is a matter of chance or luck. However evidence shows that about a third of the most common cancers could be prevented through being a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet and being regularly physically active. Being overweight and obesity is linked to increasing risk of bowel, breast, uterine pancreas, oesophagus, kidney and gall bladder cancers. Alcohol is a known risk factor for increased risk of cancer of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, bowel and breast.
So what should we do?
On an individual basis the World Cancer Research Fund’s recommendations for cancer prevention include:
- Be as lean as possible without becoming underweight
- Be physically active for at least 30 minutes every day
- Avoid sugary drinks. Limit consumption of energy-dense foods (particularly processed foods high in added sugar, or low in fibre, or high in fat)
- Eat more of a variety of vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, and pulses such as beans
- Limit consumption of red meats (such as beef, pork and lamb) and avoid processed meats
- If consumed at all, limit alcoholic drinks to 2 for men and 1 for women a day
- Limit consumption of salty foods and foods processed with salt (sodium)
- Don’t use supplements to protect against cancer
There is an increased awareness of the place of employers in creating environments that promote healthy lifestyles. These can include provision and access to healthy food options and workplace health education programmes that create awareness of some of these risk factors.