A new study published in JAMA Oncology suggest that 20 to 40 percent of cancer cases – and about half of all cancer deaths – might be prevented if we all did these four things:

  1. Exercise regularly
  2. Maintain a health Body Mass Index (BMI)
  3. Stay tobacco-free
  4. Avoid alcohol, or drink in moderation.

The authors wanted to publish a contemporary look at lifestyle and cancer risk. In addition, they wanted to provide clarification on this relationship in light of a 2015 study published in Science that suggested that a third of cancer risk might be caused by the environment or genetics, with the rest caused by random DNA mutations in stem cells (that is, by bad luck). Are most cancers really caused by random events?

The current report examined more than 130,000 white individuals from two long-running studies – the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study.  The researchers divided the participants into two groups, based on their lifestyle: A “low risk” (or healthier) and a“high risk.” group. They then examined how likely the people in each group were to develop cancers of the lung, breast, pancreas, bladder, and more. They excluded skin and brain cancer (among other types) since those cancers are strongly linked to causes like ultraviolet rays and other cancer-causing agents.

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What they found: the low-risk group was less likely to develop and die from cancers than both the high-risk group and the general white population in the U.S. Why? Because of those 4 key risk factors that we began this blog noting. You know what you need to do: 1) Aim for 150 minutes per week of the equivalent of a brisk walk; 2) maintain a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 20 to 25; 3) avoid tobacco; and 4) if you consume alcohol, do so in moderation (no more that seven standard drinks per week, and no more than three at any given time. I’m Dr. Michael Hunter.