Cut cancer risk by staying sober and slim -- study

John von Radowitz

Staying slim and drinking less alcohol is a better way to ward off cancer than eating fruit and vegetables, it is claimed today.

The conclusion was spelled out in a report looking at a decade of evidence on links between diet and cancer.

Experts found that the only diet-related factors that definitely affected cancer risk were obesity and alcohol, but tobacco remained the single biggest cause of cancer.

Professor Tim Key, from Oxford University, said: "Fruit and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet and a good source of nutrients. But so far the data does not prove that eating increased amounts of fruit and vegetables offers much protection against cancer.


"But there's strong scientific evidence to show that, after smoking, being overweight and alcohol are two of the biggest cancer risks."

Higher levels of certain hormones in overweight women could contribute to breast cancer, he said. Being overweight could also increase the risk of other common cancers such as those affecting the bowel, and more aggressive forms of pancreatic, oesophageal (gullet) and kidney cancer.

When alcohol is broken down by the body, it produces a chemical that can damage cells, raising the risk of mouth, throat, breast, bowel and liver cancers, said Prof Key.

He said that in the UK, 15,000 cases of cancer a year were caused by alcohol and 19,000 caused by being overweight or obese.The findings are published today in the British Journal of Cancer. Sara Hiom, director of health information at the charity Cancer Research UK, which owns the journal, said: "Too few people know about the significant cancer risks associated with obesity and drinking too much alcohol.

While stopping smoking remains the best way to cut your chances of developing cancer, the importance of keeping a healthy weight and cutting down on alcohol shouldn't be overlooked.

"Keeping alcohol intake to a maximum of one small drink a day for women and two small drinks per day for men and keeping weight within the healthy limits can have an enormous impact."

Dr Rachel Thompson, deputy head of science for World Cancer Research Fund, said: "The links between fruits and vegetables and cancer were reviewed by an expert panel of 21 scientists as part of our landmark 2007 report.

"Their view was that fruits and vegetables probably reduce risk of several types of cancer, including stomach cancer and cancer of the oesophagus.

"This new review has not found anything greatly different.We would agree the evidence on fruits and vegetables and cancer is not absolutely convincing. But as part of our review, the panel judged that it is strong enough to recommend that people eat plenty of them.

"Also, a big study published earlier this year suggested that if all of us ate an extra two portions a day, about 7,000 cases of cancer could be prevented in the UK. And even if there was no direct protective effect on cancer risk, people who eat plenty of fruits and vegetables are less likely to be overweight."