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Lowering Cancer Risk with Activity and Plant-Based Diet

  • Published: 2010-10-21 (Revised/Updated 2011-03-22) : Author: The American Institute for Cancer Research
  • Synopsis: Taking steps like getting more active and eating more fruits vegetables and whole grains will help delay aging and lower cancer risk.

Main Document

Latest Research: Even Late in Life, Activity and Plant-Based Diet Lower Cancer Risk - AICR Launches Campaign to Tell Older Americans "It's Never Too Late to Lower Your Risk"

Citing projections that by 2030, America's senior population will reach 20 percent of the population - 78 million people - and new survey information showing that Americans feel increasingly helpless about their personal cancer risk as they grow older, the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) today highlighted the emerging research showing that even in later life, many cancers can be delayed or prevented through regular physical activity and a plant-based diet.

Presented at AICR's annual Research Conference on Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Cancer , these research findings reflect the recent surge in the study of diet and activity on cancer's number one risk factor: aging. According to the latest estimates, nearly 4 in 5 cancers are diagnosed after age 55 and by age 65, a person's cancer risk is 10 times that of younger people. Increasingly, research is demonstrating that at any age, individuals can take simple steps "like getting and staying more active and eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains "that will help delay aging and lower cancer risk.

"You can't control your age, but you can control your cancer risk," said AICR Nutritionist Alice Bender, MS, RD., "That's what this new science is showing, and that's what people need to understand."

With these research findings as a call-to-action, AICR also launched a new awareness campaign "It's Never Too Late to Lower Your Risk "which will translate the latest evidence from laboratory research and clinical trials into small, everyday changes that offer real cancer protection. AICR is joining forces with the Alliance for Aging Research to launch the campaign, which is designed to close a significant knowledge gap among older Americans about aging and increased cancer risk. New consumer research commissioned by AICR finds that 1 in 3 adults over age 50 are unaware of the link between aging and increased cancer risk and many mistakenly believe it's too late for them to take action.

"The over-50 group has the highest cancer risk, and they stand to benefit the most by taking the kind of healthy steps that, according to evidence from laboratory research and clinical trials, offer real cancer protection," Bender said. "It's never too late. That's the message aging Americans need to hear and take to heart.

New Findings Shed New Light on Aging, Diet, Activity and Cancer Risk

The opening session of AICR's annual research conference will address the state of the science on aging, diet, physical activity and cancer at both a basic molecular level and in clinical trials. Some of the intriguing new studies include:

"There's a lot of information on diet and physical activity's potential to delay aging, and a lot on aging's relationship to cancer, but the science that addresses all of these factors together is still in its early stages," said JoEllen Welsh, PhD, of the University at Albany Cancer Center, the chair of AICR's research conference. "We're not simply talking about increasing the lifespan, we're concerned with increasing the quality of life, to keep us healthier and cancer-free as we age," Welsh added.

The panel on aging, diet, physical activity and cancer is the opening plenary session of the AICR Research Conference. For the next two days, top researchers, health professionals and policy makers will also discuss:

A Coming "Silver Tsunami" of Cancer

The new data being presented at the AICR research conference comes at a time when the number of individuals in the 65 years and older age segment of the U.S. population is expected to double by 2030, with the potential for escalating rates of cancer and a significant increase in healthcare spending to treat cancer and other chronic diseases.

Calling this impending graying of America the "silver tsunami," Daniel Perry, President of the Alliance for Aging Research, documented what is at stake starting in 2011, when the oldest of the Baby Boom generation turns 65 and is eligible for Medicare. According to the latest estimates:

The "silver lining," according to Perry, comes from AICR's new research findings, which show that older Americans have the ability to lower their cancer risk through simple lifestyle change. If Americans adopted the kinds of habits that would delay or prevent the onset of cancer, huge savings would result. According to the Alliance, even a 1% reduction in cancer deaths would be worth nearly $500 billion.

And the true potential savings are likely much greater: The AICR expert report Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective estimates that a combination of eating smart, staying lean and moving more could prevent about 1/3 of the most common cancers in the US. "The silver tsunami presents many challenges to society," said Perry, "The good news is that cancer doesn't have to be one of them."

Survey: Many Older Americans Throw Up Their Hands; Need Information

The It's Never Too Late to Lower Your Risk campaign is the result of new research commissioned by AICR which finds limited understanding among older Americans of the link between age and increased cancer risk.

Involving 587 Americans aged 50 and older, the AICR survey found the majority of Americans aged 71 and over (51%) do not know that cancer risk increases with age. This compares with a third of Americans between ages 50 and 70 that do not know about the link between cancer and aging.

Even more troubling, the AICR survey finds that many older Americans think there is nothing they can do to reduce their cancer risk. According to the survey, approximately 1 in 5 Americans over 50 - 22% - agreed with the statement "It's too late for me to reduce my personal risk of cancer." Among Americans in the 71 and over age group, this figure was significantly higher: 32%.

"This paints a very clear picture of what we're facing," said AICR's Bender. "Thousands and thousands of Americans in this group don't realize what they can do to lower their cancer risk, and mistakenly believe it's too late for them anyway."

To change these statistics, the new It's Never Too Late to Lower Your Risk campaign features a new Web site that offers older Americans clear, simple, practical advice, brochures, online tools, quizzes, daily tips, and a variety of other materials on ways to get more active safely and to incorporate more cancer-fighting foods into their meals.

The campaign Web site is available at

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 $91 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 part of the global network of charities that are dedicated to the prevention of cancer. The WCRF global network is led and unified by WCRF International, a membership association that operates as the umbrella organization for the network. The other charities in the WCRF network are World Cancer Research Fund in the UK (; Wereld Kanker Onderzoek Fonds in the Netherlands (; World Cancer Research Fund Hong Kong (; and Fonds Mondial de Recherche contre le Cancer in France (

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