A Lower Estimate for the Degree to Which Cancer is Self-Inflicted

The consensus among researchers has long been that a sizable fraction of all cancers could be avoided, given more exercise, better diet, less excess fat tissue. This is even setting aside the matter of smoking and its significant relationship to cancer. The study here is notable for adopting a slightly different approach from most other analyses, and arriving at lower numbers when it comes to the risk of a poor lifestyle. Whether or not one concurs, it is worth bearing in mind that aging remains the greatest risk factor for cancer incidence.

Cancer is a numbers game, risk over time: the wrong mutation in the wrong place; a mutated cell failing to destroy itself; the immune system failing to save the day by destroying the errant cell; the local tissue environment dysfunctional enough to support cancerous growth of that cell. Live long enough and cancer will happen, even given rejuvenation therapies capable of restoring the immune system, damping down chronic inflammation, and addressing the other most important mechanisms relating to cancer. A comprehensive, robust cure for all cancer is a vital part of the planned future toolkit of longevity assurance treatments.

Excess weight, low physical activity, and unhealthy diet contribute substantially to the development of cancer. However, no information on the attributable cancer incidence is available for the general population in Germany. By applying the concept of population-attributable fractions, we estimated the incidence of cancers attributable to excess weight, low physical activity, and unhealthy diet. Our definitions of normal body weight, recommended level of physical activity and a healthy diet followed the cancer prevention guidelines of the World Cancer Research Fund. We considered all cancer types that have been shown to be related to those lifestyle factors in published meta-analyses of prospective studies comprising 5000 or more cancer cases.

Our study revealed a high prevalence of excess weight, low physical activity, and unhealthy diet among the population in Germany in the period 2008 to 2011. For the population aged 35 to 84 years in 2018 in Germany, we therefore estimated that 30,567 incident cancers will be attributable to excess weight and 27,081 to low physical activity in 2018, corresponding to 7% and 6%, respectively, of the expected total of 440,373 incident cancers in this population. 9,000 to 14,000 cancers (2-3%) will be attributable to low intakes of dietary fiber, fruit, and non-starchy vegetables and high consumption of processed meat, and some 1,000 to 2,000 cases (less than 1%) to high intakes of salt and red meat.

Link: https://doi.org/10.3238/arztebl.2018.0578

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