Healthier lifestyle could prevent 40% of breast and bowel cancers

More than 40% of breast and ­bowel cancer cases in the UK could be prevented if people simply led healthier lifestyles, new research has suggested.

At the same time, yet more evidence has emerged of the benefits of living more healthily, with studies suggesting that increased exercise in middle age prolongs life and, conversely, that unhealthy lifestyles can more than double the risk of stroke.

A report by the World Cancer Research Fund has concluded that 43% of bowel cancer cases and 42% of breast cancer cases in the UK could be prevented if people ate more healthily, did regular exercise and maintained an appropriate weight.

The incidence of a number of other common cancers could also be reduced in this way, including mouth, pharynx and larynx (67%), oesophagus (75%) and womb cancers (56%).

A Swedish study published in the journal the BMJ, meanwhile, has concluded that increased physical activity in middle aged (over 50) can prolong life, though it may take five to 10 years before an effect is seen.

The study of men living in Uppsala, Sweden, found overall mor­tality rates were highest among sedentary men, and lowest among the most active men.

During the first five years of follow­-up the mortality rate was higher in men who had increased their level of physical activity than in men who had not changed it.

But after 10 years, the mortality rate among the survivors was reduced to the same level as men with unchanged high physical activity.

This reduction in mortality was similar to the effect of giving up smoking.

After adjusting for other risk ­factors, the researchers estimated that men who reported high levels of physical activity from the age of 50 were expected to live 2.3 years longer than sedentary men, and 1.1 years longer than men who reported medium levels of physical ­activity.

But a study of 20,040 men and women aged 40-79 living in Norfolk, also published in the BMJ, concluded that people who lead unhealthy lifestyles are more than twice as likely to suffer a stroke as those who eat and drink sensibly, don’t smoke and take regular ­exercise.

Bowel cancer awareness month

April is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month. It is becoming the biggest cancer killer in the UK and affects many people in the workplace, many of whom are unaware they have the disease. If found early, the condition is treatable. For advice on how to make your workplace aware, contact the Bowel Cancer Campaign at for an information pack.

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