Nearly 40 per cent of cancer- related deaths are preventable, mostly through lifestyle changes, an Australian study has found. Researchers from QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Australia examined eight groups of “modifiable” risk factors that international research bodies have declared to be causes of cancer. They included tobacco smoke, dietary factors, alcohol consumption, being overweight or obese, physical inactivity, ultraviolet (UV) exposure, infections, and hormonal factors. The researchers analysed data to determine how many cancer deaths each year are caused by those modifiable factors and are therefore, in theory, preventable. In the study published in the International Journal of Cancer, 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. “By far the biggest preventable cause of cancer deaths in Australia is tobacco smoke. Cancer caused by smoking and passive smoking killed 9,921 people in 2013 and accounted for 23 per cent of all cancer deaths,” said Professor David Whiteman, head of QIMR Berghofer’s Cancer Control Group.
“The other major factors were poor diet, being overweight or obese, and infections, which each caused about five per cent of all cancer deaths in 2013,” said Whiteman. “Poor diet was responsible for 2,329 deaths from cancer, being overweight or obese for 1,990 deaths, and infections for 1,981 deaths,” he said. The researchers found that cancers responsible for the largest numbers of potentially preventable deaths were lung, bowel, cutaneous (skin) melanoma, liver, and stomach cancers. 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, they said.
“While in many cases cancer is tragically unavoidable, this study highlights what we have known for years: cancer is not always a matter of genetics or bad luck,” said Whiteman. “This study shows that in theory, about 17,000 cancer deaths could be prevented each year if people followed accepted guidelines to minimise their exposure to risk factors,” he said. Researchers said that there is a lot people can do to reduce their risk of developing and dying from cancer. “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,” said Whiteman.