17 June 2020

Latest in cancer prevention: move more, ditch beer and bacon

The latest cancer prevention guidelines emphasise exercise and avoiding unhealthy foods, including red and processed meats, refined grains and alcohol.

  • Making healthy lifestyle choices goes a long way towards preventing cancer
  • Our focus should be on getting enough exercise and eating correctly
  • It is also best to avoid alcohol altogether


The latest cancer prevention guidelines may change your typical backyard barbecue: Gone are the hot dogs and booze. In are veggie kebabs and maybe a swim or some badminton.

The American Cancer Society's new cancer prevention recommendations suggest, among other things, adding more physical activity to your days. About 20 minutes a day is the minimum, but 40 minutes or more daily is even better.

The new guidelines also add emphasis on avoiding unhealthy foods, including red and processed meats, refined grains and alcohol.

"The new recommendations really increase emphasis on a few key areas [including healthy weight and diet, physical activity, and avoiding or limiting alcohol]," said Dr Laura Makaroff, senior vice president of prevention and early detection for the American Cancer Society (ACS).

Healthy choices a challenge

These factors accounted for up to 18% of cancer cases and 16% of cancer deaths in the United States, according to the new report.

Along with recommendations for individual lifestyle practices, the ACS also included guidance for communities to take action.

"In addition to recommendations for individual choices, ACS recognises that making healthy choices can be challenging for many people. We need to reduce barriers to living well and achieving a healthy lifestyle, and that will require working collaboratively at all levels to develop and implement policies to ensure access to healthy foods and opportunities for exercise," Makaroff said.

Registered dietician Pat Talio, the clinical nutrition outpatient programme coordinator at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco, New York, agreed.

"This has to be a community and a societal effort. Given Covid and the amount of money that's been spent on that, it will be especially important to keep focusing on healthy lifestyle," Talio said. "It won't help overall health if communities reduce funding in schools by cutting out gym teachers and sports programmes."

The biggest changes to the guidelines included:

  • Physical activity. In line with US government recommendations, the ACS guidelines say Americans should get between 150 and 300 minutes of moderate physical activity each week. If you up your activity level to vigorous activity, the ACS advises 75 to 150 minutes a week.
  • Alcohol. The ACS says your best bet is to skip alcohol altogether. If you chose to drink, limit your alcohol consumption to one drink a day for women or two a day for men.
  • Diet. The guidelines recommend not eating, or limiting, foods such as red or processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, refined grains and other highly processed foods. The ACS encourages a diet full of a variety of healthy foods, particularly 2.5 to 3 cups of vegetables and 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit each day. The ACS also recommends incorporating legumes and whole grains in your diet.

Along with these changes, the ACS also reconfirmed the importance of maintaining a healthy body weight. Nearly 11% of cancers in women and 5% in men have been linked to being overweight or obese. Only cigarette smoking accounts for a higher percentage of cancer, the guidelines said. Some cancers linked to excess weight include:

  • Breast
  • Ovary
  • Kidney
  • Oesophagus
  • Colon
  • Liver
  • Gallbladder
  • Pancreas

"There is no magic pill for preventing cancer," Talio said. "People say that even though they're not eating all their vegetables, they are taking a supplement. But that's not the same. You have to eat well to get the right nutrients. Have a variety of vegetables and fruits – in all different colours. Concentrate on the vegetables."

The new ACS guidelines are consistent with other government and major health organisation recommendations for preventing heart disease and diabetes.

The new guidelines were published on 9 June in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.

Image credit: Getty


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