Lifestyle Changes could have Prevented 40 Per cent of Cancer Deaths

About 16,700 Australians each year are inflicting fatal cancer upon themselves by taking up a series of risky behaviours, and at a greater rate than any other country, new research has found.

QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute’s Professor David Whiteman said while many cancers were inevitable, his study found 40 per cent of cancer deaths were preventable.

“A lot of those cancers that are occurring at high rates in Australia are ones that are directly due to the lifestyle that many of us choose to lead,” Professor Whiteman said.

So what are Australians doing that is killing us?

The eight lifestyle factors to avoid are:

  • Tobacco smoking, including passive smoking
  • Low intake of fruit and vegetables and high intake of red and processed meat
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Being overweight
  • Being physically inactive
  • Excessive exposure to UV light
  • Infections such as hepatitis C and Human papillomavirus
  • Use of some menopausal hormonal therapy
Two women in hospital receive intravenous chemotherapy treatment.
There was increasing evidence the same common factors caused many different types of cancer.

“We’ve known for a long time that tobacco causes lung cancer and cancer of the mouth and throat, but it’s becoming increasingly well known that tobacco smoking causes cancer at more distant sites in the body, including pancreas, kidney, the bladder,” he said.

“Cancer isn’t always a matter of genetics or bad luck.”

Professor Whiteman said by far the biggest cause of preventable cancer was tobacco smoking.

Of the 44,000 cancer-related deaths in 2013, poor diet was responsible for 2,329 of those deaths.

The cancers responsible for the largest numbers of potentially preventable deaths were lung, bowel, skin melanoma, liver and stomach cancers.

Men were also more likely to spend more time in the sun and consume too much food and alcohol, resulting in a higher rate of preventable cancer deaths in men.

QIMR Berghofer said the research, which has been published in the International Journal and Cancer, would guide policymakers in determining which cancers need more attention.

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