Lifestyle Interventions in the Prevention and Treatment of Cancer

Clarence H. Brown III, MD; Said M. Baidas, MD; Julio J. Hajdenberg, MD; Omar R. Kayaleh, MD; Gregory K. Pennock, MD; Nikita C. Shah, MD; Jennifer E. Tseng, MD


Am J Lifestyle Med. 2009;3(5):337-348. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Despite evidence that cancer death rates in the United States are declining, the absolute number of new cancers and cancer deaths continues to increase, and there is clear evidence that certain human behaviors are influencing these increases. The 4 major factors of lifestyle that continue to be causally related to certain cancers—tobacco use, an unhealthy diet, inadequate exercise, and excessive exposure to ultraviolet radiation—are each independently important in their effects on the genetic and molecular processes that result in the malignant transformation of human cells. There is both irrefutable and otherwise strong evidence that 4 common cancers that occur in the United States—lung cancer, colon/rectal cancer, breast cancer, and prostate cancer-and a less common cancer, malignant melanoma, have etiologic factors that are lifestyle based and therefore controllable through alterations in human behavior. These cancers and the evidence that lifestyle is important in the causation and/or prevention of the disease are the subjects of this review.


No longer is there any doubt that human behavior is a factor in many health-related issues that mankind must endure. It is clear that smoking, diet, and physical activity all have a causal relationship to heart disease, still the number one cause of death in the United States. For more than 40 years, evidence has been accumulating that cancer, the number two cause of death in this country (soon to surpass heart disease in that regard), also has those same lifestyle factors as etiological factors for many diseases classified as "cancer" With cancer accounting for more than half a million Americans dying each year, researchers have intensified efforts to identify which cancers are significantly influenced by life-style issues and what other controllable behaviors are responsible for adding to the risk of one succumbing to cancer.

Because diet and physical activity have such a bearing on one's weight, the accumulation of excess body fat is one lifestyle-related factor that has become of major significance in the development of certain cancers. In fact, it is predicted that as tobacco control measures continue to reduce the overall use of tobacco products, obesity will soon become the number one etiologic factor for most cancers.

In this article, 5 of the most common cancers, which in one or another way are affected by lifestyle, are described, and certain interventions that are either explicit or inferred that can alter either the incidence of the cancer or, in some instances, the severity or types of specific cancer are discussed.

In order of the magnitude of deaths in the United States, the following cancers are presented: lung, colon and rectal, breast, prostate, and skin (with special emphasis on malignant melanoma).


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