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Press release: Take a tip from Kim and Aggie and reduce bowel cancer risk

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by Cancer Research UK | News

11 December 2006

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An hour’s vigorous housework every day can help to reduce the risk of some types of bowel cancer according to a new Cancer Research UK report.*

Cleaning the kitchen floor and hoovering the stairs can use as much physical energy as a gym session on the treadmill or a brisk walk and all types of activity can cut the risk of colon tumours.

The study, part-funded by Cancer Research UK and the Medical Research Council and published today by the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) scientists, analysed data from 413,000 people in 10 European countries to conclude that physically active people were 22 per cent less likely to develop colon cancer.

For tumours on the right side of the colon the risk was reduced by as much as 35 per cent in the most active people. For active people who are not overweight with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of less than 25 the risk was reduced even further.

Scientists concluded that exercise was most beneficial in reducing right-sided colon cancer risk in both men and women who already had a healthy weight. But it also benefited to a lesser extent those who were overweight but not obese.

One hour a day of vigorous physical activity or two hours of moderate activity would be enough to reduce the risk of colon, though not rectal cancer.

Dr Lesley Walker, Cancer Research UK’s director of information, said: “This is a very large study which should remove any doubt about the benefits of exercise in relation to reducing the risk of bowel cancer. It is important for people to understand that they can take steps in their daily routine to reduce cancer risk. You don’t need to join a gym to get the benefit of exercise. If regular brisk walking or going for a run doesn’t appeal you can take a tip from TV’s Kim and Aggie and do some strenuous housework. Cleaning windows, vacuuming and scrubbing floors burn off a lot of calories. So does gardening or cleaning the car. If you combine regular physical activity with a good diet you are more likely to maintain a healthy body weight which will also significantly help to reduce your risk of bowel cancer. What is particularly interesting about this study is the correlation the scientists have found between exercise and cancers on the right side of the colon. We do not know the reason for this although physical activity is known to stimulate waves of muscle contraction down the right side of the colon which accelerates movement of waste and the possible cancer- causing agents in it.”

Kim and Aggie welcomed the benefits of housework. “It’s amazing how much energy you use just by doing basic housework,” they said. “Thorough cleaning involves bending and stretching, climbing stairs, using a vacuum cleaner, scrubbing the bath and lots more. It all adds up to burning off plenty of calories which helps keep weight down. It’s good to know that a daily cleaning routine can help keep you fit and healthy.”

Dr Christine Friedenreich, of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the Alberta Cancer Board and lead author of the study, said: “This study is significant because of its very large sample size and the different levels of activity that were observed across the European countries. This allowed a more in-depth analysis of how physical activity influences colon cancer risk.”

Professor Elio Riboli, of Imperial College London, coordinator of the EPIC, said: “We were particularly interested in the results that we found for different parts of the colon and rectum which were not feasible in previous studies because of the smaller sample sizes and lack of data on the position of tumours. The protective effect of physical activity on colon but not on rectal cancer is in agreement with our previous results on colorectal cancer risk in relation to obesity and insuline resistance that also showed specific association with colon cancer risk. These new results indicate that the behavioural and metabolic factors on which we can operate for prevention are different for the cancer risk at the two anatomical sub-sites. Professor John Toy, medical director of Cancer Research UK, said: “EPIC has carried out much valuable research into the link between diet and cancer and this study has expanded the work by showing the valuable role of physical activity in reducing bowel cancer risk.From a general public health perspective it is also encouraging that physical activity has been shown to reduce colon cancer risk in people who are overweight.”

** Among the 21,500 cases of colon cancer diagnosed each year in the UK, approximately half are detected on the right-hand side of the colon.


For media enquiries contact Sally Staples in the press office on 020 7061 8300, of the out of hours duty press officer on 07050 264059.

Notes to Editor

Bowel cancer, often called colorectal cancer, is the third most common cancer in men, and the second most common cancer in women in the UK. Two thirds of these cases are colon cancer (around 21,500) and one third are rectal cancer (around 13,300).

In England and Wales the lifetime risk of being diagnosed with colorectal cancer is 1 in 18 for men and 1 in 20 for women.

If the cancer is caught at an early stage, around eight out of ten cases can be successfully treated. Nowadays, around half of all patients with bowel cancer are cured.

A Body Mass Index (BMI) between 25 and 30 indicates being overweight. A BMI over 30 indicates obesity.

Half of all cancers could be prevented by changes to lifestyle. Cancer Research UK’s Reduce the Risk campaign has five simple messages to help people reduce their risk of cancer. These are:

  • Stop smoking: this is the best present you will ever give yourself
  • Stay in shape: cut your cancer risk by keeping a healthy weight
  • Eat and drink healthily: limit alcohol and maintain a healthy diet
  • Be SunSmart: protect yourself from the sun and harmful UV
  • Look after number one; be aware of any body changes and go for screening.

For further information on Reduce the Risk click here

For further information on bowel cancer visit CancerHelp