Cut unhealthy behaviors to reduce cancer mortality by one third

Aug 13, 2019
Cut unhealthy behaviors to reduce cancer mortality by one third

Policymakers, the medical community and society at large need to come together to help people adopt healthier lifestyles that could cut cancer deaths by a third, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).

The association’s 2035 Challenge Goal on Cancer Mortality Reduction highlights the role of smoking, excess body weight, alcohol and lack of exercise, along with low screening take-up, in the development of cancer.

“Reducing the prevalence of risk factors and achieving optimal adherence to evidence-based screening guidelines by 2025 could lead to a 33.5 percent reduction in the overall cancer death rate by 2035,” notes the paper, published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians

Concerted effort to reach 2035 goal

“Concerted efforts to promote healthy behaviors, such as quitting smoking, achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight and being physically active, and increasing access and utilization of known, evidence-based medical interventions … are essential to achieving the 2035 challenge goal.”

Between 2001 and 2015, the overall cancer death rate in the US decreased 2.6 percent a year in people with a college education. Yet, the drop in the general population was just 1.5 percent.

The study, which used data from a variety of sources including the Epidemiology and End Results database, the National Center for Health Statistics and the 2005 and 2015 National Health Interview Surveys, says this is – in part – due to the lower prevalence of known risk factors among college-educated people.

It also highlights that, despite a 26 percent drop in mortality overall since 1990, some cancers are actually on the rise.

Obesity-related cancers on rise

Adult obesity has been linked to an increased risk of post-menopausal breast cancer, and there has been a small, but significant, rise in cases of pancreatic cancer, which is associated with smoking and excess weight.

Over the past decade, colorectal cancer death rates have increased slightly among adults aged 20 to 54 years. Reasons for this increase are unknown, the authors say, adding that it may in part reflect the obesity epidemic.

“The high prevalence of childhood obesity is a recent phenomenon and may transition to a higher rate of adulthood obesity in the United States,” predict the authors.

“Because the obesity epidemic and increasing unhealthy diet are likely to continue, targeted interventions are needed to slow down or reverse these unfavorable trends.”

Targeted interventions

Setting out the path to reducing cancer mortality by 33.5 per cent, the paper, billed as a blueprint for change, offers prescriptive advice, including:

  • Body mass index levels need to drop to those seen in the 1970s
  • Increase daily consumption of fruit and vegetables by an average 100g, dietary fiber by 10g, and dietary calcium by 200mg
  • Reduce daily consumption of red meat and processed meat by 50g.

These changes, combined with a colorectal and breast cancer screening uptake rate of 90 percent, would result in a one-third drop in cancer mortality.

“Future progress in the ‘war on cancer’ depends on the extent to which policymakers and the American public can join together to create systems to provide adequate healthcare to all,” the authors conclude.


Ma, J., Jemal, A., Fedewa, S. A., Islami, F., Lichtenfeld, J. L., Wender, R. C., … & Brawley, O. W. (2019). The American Cancer Society 2035 challenge goal on cancer mortality reduction. CA: a cancer journal for clinicians.

Cut unhealthy behaviors to reduce cancer mortality by one third

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