Modest lifestyle changes reduce risk of colorectal cancer

January 1, 2011

Eating a healthy diet, not smoking, drinking alcohol in moderation, keeping waist circumference below 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men, and exercising at least 30 minutes per day could prevent almost one-fourth of the global cases of colon cancer diagnosed each year, according to results of a new study.

Eating a healthy diet, not smoking, drinking alcohol in moderation (not more than 7 drinks per week for women and not more than 14 drinks per week for men), keeping waist circumference below 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men, and exercising at least 30 minutes per day could prevent almost one-fourth (23%) of the global cases of colon cancer diagnosed each year, according to the results of a new Danish study.

Researchers followed more than 55,000 men and women between the ages of 50 and 64 years for almost a decade. During follow-up, 678 study participants were diagnosed with colorectal cancer, 420 with colon cancer, and 258 with rectal cancer. When categorized by lifestyle index scores (from 0 points for least healthy to 5 points for most healthy based upon adherence to the lifestyle recommendations), data showed that 8% of the total participants scored 0 or 1 point; 26% scored 2 points; 40% scored 3; 25% scored 4; and only 1% scored the maximum 5 points. The lifestyle index was linearly related to the combined risk of colorectal cancer and colon cancer among men and women. Achieving 4 points was associated with a 30% reduction in risk for colorectal cancer.

Based upon these linear calculations, researchers suggest that if all the participants began following just 1 additional lifestyle modification, about 13% of colorectal cancers could be prevented. Likewise, if all the participants followed all 5 of the lifestyle modifications, about 23% of colorectal cancer cases could be prevented.