New Study Adds Weight to Lifestyle Over Genetics in Cancer Prevention

A recently published study from Harvard University reinforces the impact that healthy lifestyle choices make in the prevention of cancer and its outcome, as well as the control each of us can exert in such prevention.

The Harvard study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Oncology site on May 19, 2016, adds increasing evidence that lifestyle choices, more than genetics, are responsible for the development of most cancers and influence the outcome of cancer care. This study joins other recent research that also speaks to the importance of lifestyle choices in the development of cancer – and its prevention.

Harvard Study: “Preventable Incidence and Mortality of Carcinoma Associated with Lifestyle Factors Among White Adults in the United States” May 2016

For the Harvard study, researchers looked at the influence of four lifestyle choices, controllable factors in everyone’s life, and what effect, if any, they had on the development of cancer and/or the outcome of cancer that has already developed. The four lifestyle factors examined in this study were smoking, weight, physical activity and alcohol intake.

Researchers examined data from the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results program (SEER), the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study for analysis for the purpose of evaluating associations between these lifestyle factors and cancer incidence and mortality. Altogether, data was analyzed from more than 89,000 women and 46,000 men.

Two groups of individuals were designated; one a low risk group, the other a high risk group. The low risk group were those individuals designated as having a healthy lifestyle pattern. For this study, that was defined as: Never having smoked or smoked in the past more than five years previous; no alcohol intake or moderate alcohol intake (1 or fewer drinks/day for women; 2 or fewer drinks per day for men); BMI between 18.1 and 27.5; aerobic physical activity of at least 75 minutes of vigorous activity/week or at least 150 minutes of moderate activity/week. Those individuals who did not meet all four criteria were designated to be in the high risk group.

When data from these two groups were compared, numbers revealed that approximately 20 percent to 40 percent of cancers could be prevented in that portion of the white population in the United States. When the study data was compared against the entire population of whites in the US, cancers preventable by following a healthy lifestyle increased to 40 percent to 70 percent. The researchers also believe these observations would be true for other segments of the US population.

The researchers’ conclusion? Prevention of cancer should remain a priority.

Previous Research Also Revealed the Importance of a Healthy Lifestyle in Preventing Cancer, Discounts “Bad Luck” Gene Theory

In December 2015, a study undertaken by a team of researchers from Stony Brook University in New York revealed via quantitative analysis that external environmental factors and behavior are factors in the development of as many as 70 percent to 90 percent of cancers. The study, published online in the science journal Nature December 16, 2015, came about as a result of a study published earlier in the year by another group of researchers who concluded that developing cancer was due to an individual having a “bad luck” gene – an internal propensity for cell division and mutation that would lead to cancer.

The Stony Brook research, and now the newer study results from Harvard University point to the importance of continuing efforts at preventing cancer rather than surrendering to the inevitability of developing cancer based on an uncontrollable intrinsic factor such as a “bad luck” gene.


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