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Lifestyle changes might prevent 20 percent to 40 percent of cancer cases -- and about half of cancer deaths, new research indicates.

Lifestyle changes might prevent 20 percent to 40 percent of cancer cases — and about half of cancer deaths, new research indicates.

That’s what two researchers from Harvard Medical School and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found after analyzing data on about 136,000 women and men.

They conducted the study to examine any associations between a healthy lifestyle pattern and the incidence of cancer cases and cancer deaths.

The study results were published online in the journal JAMA Oncology this week. The researchers write:

“These findings reinforce the predominate importance of lifestyle factors in determining cancer risk.”

For the purpose of the study, the researchers defined a healthy lifestyle pattern by four characteristics:

  • Never having smoked. Or, having smoked in the past, but now quit.
  • Not drinking alcohol, or moderately drinking alcohol — no more than one drink per day for women, or two drinks per day for men.
  • Body mass index of at least 18.5, but lower than 27.5. The National Institutes of Health define BMIs of 18.5 to 24.9 as “normal” weight and BMIs of 25 to 29.9 as overweight.
  • Weekly aerobic physical activity of at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity, or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity.

Study participants who met all four criteria — about 28,000 people — were considered low risk, and the rest of the participants were considered high risk.

The study participants were nurses and other health professionals. For the general U.S. population, the researchers projected that 40 percent to 70 percent of cancer cases might be prevented by lifestyle changes.

One shortcoming of the study is that the participants were all white. So, JAMA notes, those percentages can’t necessarily be generalized to other ethnic groups.

What’s your take on this news? Would you meet the criteria for a healthy lifestyle pattern used in this study? Share your thoughts below or on Facebook.

Stacy Johnson

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