A New Year means new chances to start new things. Opportunities to identify and live dreams, make resolutions for changes and a time to think of future visions. Re-considering ways of life is often one part of those visions and taking control over health behaviours such as eating and drinking.

We should be able to control a substantial proportion of cancer risk through lifestyle change.

Can we really influence our health and disease risk? An article published in Science1 last week, based on mathematical modelling, suggests that a third of the variation in cancer risk is due to environmental factors or inherited predispositions, and although the majority may be due to “bad luck” (i.e. random mutations), we should be able to control a substantial proportion of cancer risk through lifestyle change.

The World Cancer Research Fund estimates that around 24% of cancer in the UK can be prevented through changes in diet, physical activity and body weight; add in smoking and that estimate increases.2 There are no promises that risk reduction means complete prevention but, it might, and that is the risk that many are willing to try. Healthy lifestyle also means reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes and let’s just summarise this as more healthy days to live and enjoy!

Two years ago, Anderson et al published a paper on lifestyle issues for colorectal cancer survivors.3 They reported that changing lifestyle to ‘stack the odds in their favour’ (against recurrence) appeared a more meaningful concept than prevention per se. Those people who had made or maintained lifestyle changes highlighted the importance of these to contributing to wellbeing and a sense of control in their life. Not everyone has the opportunity to exert control – life circumstances and disabilities can militate against best intentions – but helping, supporting and facilitating lifestyle change from macro level downwards must be a key resolution for 2015.

– Annie

Professor Annie S Anderson BSc PhD RD FRCP (Edin)

  1. Tomasetti & Vogelstien (2015) Variation in cancer risk among tissues can be explained by the number of stem cell divisions Science 347 6217 p78 http://www.sciencemag.org/content/347/6217/78.full.pdf 6th January 2015
  2. WCRF Cancer Preventability Estimates for Food, Nutritian, Body Fatness & Physical Activity http://www.wcrf.org/int/cancer-facts-figures/preventability-estimates/cancer-preventability-estimates-food-nutrition 6th January 2015
  3. Anderson AS, Coyle J, Steele RJC (2012) Lifestyle issues for colorectal cancer survivors –perceived needs, beliefs and opportunitiesSupport Care Cancer 21(1): 35-42