No amount of bacon, alcohol is safe, World Cancer Research Fund finds

Leslie Hanson
May 25, 2018

"It's unlikely that there are "magic bullet" specific foods or nutrients that in themselves cause or protect against cancer", said Dr. Kate Allen, executive director of science and public affairs at WCRF International, in a blog post published Thursday.

The WCRF has launched an online cancer health check tool to allow people to assess their own lifestyle and risk.

Caroline Cerny of the Obesity Health Alliance, a coalition of health organisations, said: "As this report shows, carrying excess weight can increase the risk of cancer". WCRF recommends that people cut down on fast and processed convenience foods. The WCRF also warned against relying on dietary supplements and emphasized the benefits of breastfeeding babies. Sugary drinks cause people to put on weight.

In the biggest analysis of its kind, experts warn junk food, ready meals and red meat should be eaten only in moderation in favour of a diet that is rich in wholegrains, fruit and vegetables. For cancer prevention, the WCRF also said to avoid alcohol completely.

Alcohol, meanwhile, was "strongly" associated with cancer of the breast, liver, mouth, bowel, throat, esophagus, and stomach.

The number of new cases of cancer is expected to rise by 58% to 24 million globally by 2035 as more countries adopt "Western" lifestyles, according to the report. However, the onus to prevent cancer does not exclusively lie with individuals, they stressed, urging governments to prioritize cancer prevention policies.

The report from World Cancer Research Fund links 12 types of cancers to being overweight, including breast and colorectal cancer.

It is impossible to work out how many cancer-free years a better lifestyle could buy people, says WCRF, but a spokesperson said "we do know that around 40% of cancer cases are preventable and that eating a healthy diet, being more active each day and maintaining a healthy weight are - after not smoking - the most important ways you can reduce your cancer risk".

The report said as of 2016, an estimated 1.97 billion adults worldwide and more than 338 million children and teens were considered overweight or obese.

Avoiding bacon and alcohol could help reduce the risk of cancer up to 40%, experts suggested as they unveiled what has been dubbed the "blueprint" to beat the disease.

"It's clear we need an environment that supports and encourages healthy choices, rather than steering us towards unhealthy options with constant adverts, promotions and offers", she said. The cornerstones of healthy living- not smoking, keeping a healthy weight, staying active and eating and drinking healthily- remain the key to cutting cancer risk.

"This doesn't mean we have to be flawless all the time- a bacon sandwich or glass of wine every so often isn't anything to worry about. Building small changes into your daily life, like choosing sugar-free drinks or walking more, can add up to a big difference for your health".

"The risk [of kidney cancer] is lower for up to two alcoholic drinks a day; however, for more than two drinks a day the level of risk is unclear".

Update | This piece has been updated with comment from Emma Shields.

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