Landmark policy report, co-written by University of Colorado Cancer Center interim director, provides comprehensive, evidence-based recommendations

A new global policy report estimates that approximately 45 percent of colon cancer cases and 38 percent of breast cancer cases in the United States are preventable through diet, physical activity and weight maintenance. The report also sets out recommendations for policies to reduce the global number of cancer cases.

The overall message of the report, “Policy and Action for Cancer Prevention”, published today by the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) and American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), is that all sections of society need to make public health, and cancer prevention in particular, a higher priority.

“This new report shows that about one-third of the most common cancers we see in the United States could be prevented by individuals making choices to lower their cancer risk,” said Tim Byers, MD, MPH, interim director of the University of Colorado Cancer Center and associate dean of the Colorado School of Public Health. “This figure does not include smoking, which alone accounts for about a third of cancers.”

Those choices, in brief: Maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active and eating a plant-based diet that contains limited amounts of meat, alcohol and salt—and as always, not smoking. For many Americans, actually making these choices remains difficult, said Byers, a member of the WCRF/AICR panel. He said today’s report takes the next step to identify the opportunities we have as a society to make these healthy choices easier for everyone.

“These up-to-date estimates on the proportion of cancer cases that could be prevented through diet, physical activity and weight management show us just how high the stakes are,” he said. “Across the world, this equates to many millions of cancer cases that are not inevitable. We, as a society, need to act now.”

Different Policy Recommendations For Different Groups

As part of the evidence-based report, thought to be the most comprehensive ever published on the subject, two independent teams of scientists systematically examined the evidence for how policy changes can influence the behaviors that affect cancer risk.

Following this, a panel of 23 world-renowned experts made a total of 48 recommendations, divided between nine different but often overlapping sectors of society – called “actor groups” in the report. These actor groups are: multinational bodies; civil society organizations; government; industry; media; schools; workplaces and institutions; health and other professionals; and people.

Among the recommendations:

  • Governments should require widespread walking and cycling routes to encourage physical activity.
  • Industry should give a higher priority for goods and services that encourage people to be active, particularly young people.
  • The food and drink industry should make public health an explicit priority at all stages of production.
  • Schools should actively encourage physical activity and provide healthy food for children.
  • Schools, workplaces and institutions should not have unhealthy foods available in vending machines.
  • Health professionals should take a lead in giving the public information about public health, including cancer prevention.
  • People should use independent nutrition guides and food labels to make sure the food they buy for their family is healthy.

“Estimating cancer preventability is a very complex prospect that involves making a number of assumptions,” Byers said. “Having said that, the figures in this report are as good an estimate as is possible to achieve about the proportion of cancer cases that could be prevented through healthy diet, regular physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight.

“On a global level every year, there are millions of cancer cases that could have been prevented. This is why we need to act now before the situation gets even worse.”

The report also includes preventability estimates for the United Kingdom (which, like the United States, is considered a high-income country), as well as for China and Brazil, which respectively represent low and middle-income countries.

Policy Report Represents the Next Step

The new WCRF/AICR Policy Report is a companion document to the expert report “Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective”, which was published by AICR and WCRF in November 2007. That expert report evaluated the scientific evidence from over 7,000 studies and came away with 10 recommendations for lowering cancer risk.

“The 2007 expert report identified the specific choices that people can make to protect themselves against cancer, but actually making those healthy choices remains difficult for many people,” said policy report panel member Shiriki Kumanyika, PhD, MPH, of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. “The policy report takes the next step – it identifies opportunities for us as a society to make those choices easier.”

More information, including video interviews with panel members, Q and A documents, and other background materials, is available at:


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About the University of Colorado Cancer Center

The University of Colorado Cancer Center is the Rocky Mountain region’s only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center. NCI has given only 40 cancer centers this designation, deeming membership as “the best of the best.” Headquartered on the University of Colorado Denver Anschutz Medical Campus, UCCC is a consortium of three state universities (Colorado State University, University of Colorado at Boulder and University of Colorado Denver) and five institutions (The Children’s Hospital, Denver Health, Denver VA Medical Center, National Jewish Health and University of Colorado Hospital). Together, our 400+ members are working to ease the cancer burden through cancer care, research, education and prevention and control. Learn more at

About the American Institute for Cancer Research

The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. It has contributed more than $87 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR has published two landmark reports that interpret the accumulated research in the field and is committed to a process of continuous review. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. Its award-winning New American Plate program is presented in brochures, seminars and on its Website, AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International.

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