Skip to main content

Greater adherence to lifestyle recommendations associated with lower cancer risk

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. The findings are published in BMC Medicine.

The 2018 WCRF/AICR cancer prevention recommendations aim to reduce the risk of cancer by encouraging individuals to maintain a healthy weight, be physically active, and eat a diet rich in wholegrains, vegetables, fruit, and beans, but low in highly processed foods, red and processed meat, sugar-sweetened drinks, and alcohol.

John Mathers and colleagues investigated the relationship between adherence to the WCRF/AICR recommendations and cancer risk by analysing UK Biobank data for 94,778 British adults, who were 56 years old on average. The researchers used self-reported dietary and physical activity data — in addition to participants’ body mass index and waist circumference measurements — to score participants’ adherence to the recommendations out of a maximum score of 7 points. They used cancer registry data to calculate the incidence of new cancers that developed over an average period of 8 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.

The authors found that greater adherence to the WCRF/AICR recommendations was associated with a lower risk of all cancers combined, with each 1-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 1-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. 


Media Contact
Deborah Kendall-Cheeseman
Communications Manager
Springer Nature
T: +44 (0)20 7843 2653

Notes to editor:

1. Research article:

“Adherence to the 2018 World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF)/American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) Cancer Prevention Recommendations and risk of 14 lifestyle-related cancers in the UK Biobank prospective cohort study”
BMC Medicine 2023
DOI: 10.1186/s12916-023-03107-y
The article is available at the journal website.

Please name the journal in any story you write. If you are writing for the web, please link to the article. All articles are available free of charge, according to BMC's open access policy.

2. BMC Medicine is the flagship medical journal of the BMC series. An open access, transparent peer-reviewed general medical journal, BMC Medicine publishes outstanding and influential research in all areas of clinical practice, translational medicine, medical and health advances, public health, global health, policy, and general topics of interest to the biomedical and sociomedical professional communities. We also publish stimulating debates and reviews as well as unique forum articles and concise tutorials.

3. A pioneer of open access publishing, BMC has an evolving portfolio of high quality peer-reviewed journals including broad interest titles such as BMC Biology and BMC Medicine, specialist journals such as Malaria Journal and Microbiome, and the BMC series. At BMC, research is always in progress. We are committed to continual innovation to better support the needs of our communities, ensuring the integrity of the research we publish, and championing the benefits of open research. BMC is part of Springer Nature, giving us greater opportunities to help authors connect and advance discoveries across the world.