Reduce Your Risk of Cancer — and Don’t Wait

A newly released study of 40,000 women from Johns Hopkins and National Cancer Institute (NCI) estimates that 30% of breast cancer cases in women in the US could be prevented by maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding hormone therapy, limiting alcohol and avoiding tobacco. Holy cow, Batman.

Investigators at Hopkins and NCI reported that women at highest risk, attributable to their genetics (in other words, factors beyond their control), were precisely the ones who most reduced their risk by maintaining a normal weight, avoiding tobacco and hormone therapy, and limiting alcohol. Just so you know, the study evaluated only 30- to 80-year-old, Caucasian, female residents of Australia, Europe and the U.S., and excluded carriers of the BRCA gene. But 40,000 is 40,000, and that’s a lot of people no matter how you slice it.

You know that my work in preventive medicine has broad implications for preventing diabetes, strokes, and heart attacks, but this story of health & wellness apparently has another big chapter that we didn’t even know about. And it’s not just about breast cancer, either. Healthy behaviors may prevent up to half of all cancer deaths and diagnoses (including lung, colon, pancreatic and kidney cancers), according to yet another recent study, this one from Harvard’s Chan School of Public Health. In women, 41% of cancer cases and 59% of cancer deaths are thought to be potentially preventable. In men, those numbers rise to estimated 63% and 67%, respectively. Don’t worry about the exact numbers — just believe me when I say that it’s a lot, a very lot, a lot more than you would ever have guessed. 

In the Harvard study, a healthy lifestyle was defined as not smoking, limiting daily alcohol to one drink/day (fyi, that’s for women; it’s two drinks/day for men and you can’t save up), maintaining a body mass index between 18.5 and 27.5, and getting at least 75 minutes of vigorous (or 150 minutes of moderate-intensity) exercise weekly.

An accompanying editorial stated that “As a society, we need to … embrace the opportunity to reduce our collective cancer toll by implementing effective prevention strategies and changing the way we live.” Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about.

You can’t change the hand that you’ve been dealt, but you can certainly play it to your best advantage. And it looks like your best advantage is much better than we could ever have imagined. I’m taking questions…

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