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  • Health & Medicine

Balance is key to cancer prevention

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by Cancer Research UK | News

12 September 2002

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Diet is second only to tobacco in causing cancer, experts now confirm.

Coupling a healthy diet with regular exercise and a restriction on alcohol intake can substantially reduce the chances of developing the disease, a leading Cancer Research UK scientist concludes.

Writing in The Lancet1 today, Dr Tim Key argues that while further evidence is needed before scientists can give detailed dietary advice, eating a balanced diet, with lots of fruit and veg, and avoiding obesity can go a long way in preventing cancer.

Dr Key says: “The results of existing large prospective studies and controlled trials should substantially advance our understanding of the role of diet in cancer during the next few years.

“At present prudent dietary advice is to maintain a healthy weight, restrict alcohol consumption, and select a conventionally balanced diet ensuring an adequate intake of fruit, vegetables and cereals.”

Dietary factors are thought to account for around 30 per cent of cancers in the developed world and 20 per cent in developing countries.

Large reductions of physical activity over the last thirty years along with increasing obesity in many populations have rendered many people more susceptible than ever to developing certain cancers.

Obesity particularly can increase the risk of cancers of the food pipe, bowel, breast, womb, and kidney, and large quantities of alcohol can lead to oesophageal, liver and throat cancers, along with a small increase in risk of breast cancer.

However, a high fruit and veg intake can reduce risk independently of other factors and is a valuable protective factor.

Sir Paul Nurse, the charity’s Chief Executive says: “Cancer Research UK is keen to advise the public on how to reduce the risk of developing the disease.”

“Getting people to give up smoking continues to be the major issue in preventing cancer but for non-smokers it’s becoming clear that diet is a key factor in reducing risk.”



  1. The Lancet360 pp.861-868