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Disarming Cancer by Improving Lifestyle: Evidence in Europe from EPIC Study

New York, June 26, 2001 (PSA Rising) -- Europeans in search of new strategies to disarm cancer see a greater threat to health from everyday greasy foods like sausages and fries than from catastrophic meat scares like "mad cow" disease and foot-and-mouth virus.

Much of the "new" thinking about cancer comes down to informed, evidence-based reliance on prevention. Last week in Lyon, France several hundred researchers met to pool results from on-going studies on nutrition and cancer. The focus was on three factors -- fruits and vegetables, alcohol and animal products.

1- The protective effect of fruits and vegetables

The EPIC study confirms that fruits and vegetables reduce incidence of cancers of the colon and rectum and upper aerodigestive tract. A protective effect for stomach and lung cancers, not yet clearly confirmed, may show up with longer study.

A daily consumption of about 500g of fruit halves the incidence of cancers of the upper aerodigestive tract.

2- Disastrous effects of alcohol and tobacco

On top of lung cancer risk from tobacco, the EPIC study shows very strong effect of alcohol and tobacco on cancers of the upper aerodigestive tract.

For a pack-a-day smoker compared to a non-smoker, the risk for one of these cancers is 8 times higher.

For alcohol drinkers, a three-quarter liter bottle of wine a day increases the risk of upper aerodigestive tract cancer 9 times.

For a smoker who drinks, a "multiplier effect" rockets up the risk of upper tract cancer 50 times.

This precisely confirms the results obtained by an IARC team fifteen years ago on the cancers of the larynx, pharynx and esophagus in Southern European countries.

3- Contrasting results for preserved meats and red meats, and protective effect of fish

For meat, fish and dairy products (animal products), the study focused on cancers of the colon, rectum, stomach and upper aerodigestive tract. The strongest, clearest evidence links increased risk of colon cancer with eating preserved meats. Colon cancer risk falls with fish consumption.

Red meat as such has not been associated so far with risk of developing colon/rectum cancer. A positive association between total consumption of meat and cancers of the stomach and upper aerodigestive tract needs further study. Cooking methods for meat may turn out to be more important than type of meat. Any cooking that chars meat or exposes it to greasy flare up -- broiling, grilling, pan-frying -- may make it more likely to cause cancer. Study of this is ongoing.

Eating poultry is not associated with an increase in cancer risk and some indications suggest reduced risk (perhaps because of hamburgers and franks not eaten!).

In a nutshell, to prevent many of the nastiest cancers, adopt lifelong healthy patterns. Take charge of your body and avoid obesity; eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables every day, choose fish, avoid bacon, hot-dogs, smoked and processed lunch meats and sausage; exercise and stay active, drink alcohol moderately if at all, and stay tobacco- and smoke-free at home and in the workplace. Teach all this wisdom to your nieces, nephews, and/or grandchildren. And if you vacation in Europe, enjoy the same with a different accent.


Download complete abstracts from the Lyon, France EPIC conference of June 23-24 2001. This is an Acrobat Reader .pdf file 2.99MB

EPIC is the largest epidemiological study ever conducted on the relationship between diet and cancer, with over 500,000 subjects in 10 European countries. This prospective study aims at elucidating the cause-effect relationships between dietary balance, anthropometric measurements, physical activity and hormonal factors as well as genetic susceptibility factors, and specific types of cancer.

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