By Joyce Ojanji

Greater adherence to the World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research (WCRF/AICR) cancer prevention recommendations, which encourage a healthy lifestyle, is associated with a lower risk of all cancers combined and some individual cancers such as breast cancer.

This is according to John Mathers and colleagues’ findings published in BMC Medicine after their investigations on the relationship between adherence to the WCRF/AICR recommendations and cancer risk by analyzing UK Bio bank data for 94,778 British adults, who were 56 years old on average.

These recommendations include having healthy weight, this means keeping weight within the healthy range and avoiding weight gain in adult life by ensuring that the body weight during childhood and adolescence projects towards the lower end of the healthy adult body mass index (BMI) range.

It also involves being physically active by walking more, sitting less, and limiting sedentary habits; as well as eating diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, fruits and beans and consuming a diet that provides at least 30 g/day of fiber from food sources.

The recommendations also call for limiting consumption of processed foods high in fat, starches, or sugars—including fast foods; many prepared dishes, snacks, bakery foods and desserts; and confectionery (candy). Limiting these foods helps control calorie intake and maintain a healthy weight.

They also advise on limiting alcohol consumption as well as consumption of red and processed meat (if you eat consume to no more than about three portions per week). They also urge people to drink water and limit consumption of sweetened drinks.

The recommendations advise against high dose dietary supplements and advocate for diet to meet nutritional needs.

Mothers are urged to breastfeed their babies aligning with the advice of the World Health Organization(WHO) which recommends infants are exclusively breastfed for 6 months, and then up to years of age or beyond alongside appropriate complementary foods.

The researchers used self-reported dietary and physical activity data — in addition to participants’ BMI reference measurements — to score participants’ adherence to the recommendations out of a maximum score of seven points. They used cancer registry data to calculate the incidence of new cancers that developed over an average period of eight years.

They accounted for age, sex, socioeconomic deprivation, ethnicity, and smoking status in their analyses. The average recommendation adherence score was 3.8 points and 7,296 participants (8%) developed cancer during the study period.

They found that greater adherence to the WCRF/AICR recommendations was associated with a lower risk of all cancers combined, with each one point increase in recommendation adherence score associated with a 7% lower risk. Compared to those with an adherence scores of 3.5 points or less, those with a score of 4.5 points or above had a 16% lower risk of all cancers combined.

They also found that each one point increase in adherence score was associated with a 10% lower risk of breast cancer, a 10% lower risk of colorectal cancer, an 18% lower risk of kidney cancer, a 16% lower risk of oesophageal cancer, a 22% lower risk of liver cancer, a 24% lower risk of ovarian cancer, and a 30% lower risk of gallbladder cancer.

The findings support compliance with the WCRF/AICR recommendations for cancer prevention in the UK, however the authors note that the observational nature of their study does not allow for conclusions about a causal relationship between WCRF/AICR recommendation adherence and cancer risk. The authors add that further research is needed to investigate which recommendations may be driving the observed association between recommendation adherence and cancer risk.