Cancer is one of the leading international causes of morbidity and mortality. Lifestyle factors that contribute to causing cancer have been widely studied in recent years. Summarizing relevant studies, lifestyle factors identified include smoking, alcohol consumption, diet, weight management, physical activity, and environmental exposure. These studies use a variety of methodologies to determine the link between the lifestyle factor and risk of cancer. Issues with the methods of these studies can be addressed by future research that attempts to remedy methodological defects while replicating results. Valid and reliable information is essential to using information about lifestyle factors to combat cancer.
Lifestyle Factors Inducing Cancers
As one of the leading causes of mortality in the world, it is estimated that cancers will have killed 10 million people around the globe by 2020 (Haque et al. 2010). In 2009, the American Cancer Society estimated that there were nearly 1.5 million new cancer cases and about 560,000 cancer deaths (Khan, Afaq, and Mukhtar, 2010). Unfortunately, there is no guaranteed form of treatment for cancer and emphasis has been placed on prevention and early detection in order to combat this disease (Haque et al., 2010).
While the precise etiology of the disease is unknown, a number of causes of cancer have been identified and different factors can increase or reduce the risk of developing cancer (Haque et al., 2010). Genetics may predispose an individual to develop cancer or put them at a higher risk for a certain type of cancer because of a mutation at a certain codon (Naguib et al., 2010). Additionally, exposure to certain carcinogens or infections may increase the risk of developing a related type of cancer (Yamaji et al., 2009). Lifestyle factors build on the predetermined risk that comes with one's genetics and can induce cancer (Haque et al., 2010).
With 10 to 70% of cancer mortality being attributable to lifestyle factors (Haque et al., 2010), this article will review studies from the last five years addressing the impact of lifestyle factors on inducing cancer. This author will critique the studies, discussing the strengths and weaknesses of the methodology. Finally, the paper will conclude with recommendations for future research.
Studies on the Correlation of Lifestyle and Cancer
Numerous studies have considered the impact of lifestyle factors such as smoking habits and physical activity levels on cancer. This section discusses the findings of those studies with respect to each lifestyle factor. Many studies consider the same factors, but focus on different types of cancers. Within the discussion of each lifestyle factors, the differing impact on specific cancers may be noted.
Smoking is one of the more well-known lifestyle factors that contribute to the incidence of cancer. It is estimated that smoking cigarettes causes 85 to 90% of lung cancers and long-term smoking leads to an increase in the risk for colon cancer (Khan et al., 2010). Active and passive smoking can lead to the production of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons, or PAH, which are established carcinogens that target the following body organs: lungs, breasts, oropharynx, genitourinary tract, and gastrointenstinal tract (Haque et al., 2010).
Khan et al. (2010), used an article review to identify studies of the link between lifestyle factors and cancer. The studies cited by the authors found no significant sex differences in the carcinogenic effects of smoking. The authors explained that intensity and duration of smoking are critical with the largest risks for those that were between 20 and 22 years of age when they started smoking and those that smoke 20 to 29 cigarettes per day. The literature review also noted that current smokers have a higher rate of lung cancer death than do former smokers (Khan et al., 2010).
Boniol and Autier (2010) examined the correlation of cancer and lifestyle risk factors in Europe by looking at the pattern of cancer incidence and data on lifestyle factors. The rate of cancer correlated with smoking rates. For example, in countries where smoking cessation programs had not begun and there were fewer former smokers, there continued to be increases in the incidence rates of cancers in the respiratory tract. This was seen primarily in Eastern European countries. (Boniol and Autier, 2010)
Bissonauth et al. (2009) examined the link between smoking and breast cancer, focusing on female French-Canadians. The researchers were testing the effect of lifestyle factors while controlling for the common BRCA mutations by using equal numbers of carriers the frequent mutations and non-carriers. They found that those who smoked cigarettes for greater than 9 pack-years had a 59% higher risk of breast cancer. When the results were split by premenopausal and postmenopausal women, they found that premenopausal smokers had a 63% increased risk and there was a 49% higher risk for postmenopausal smokers. (Bissonauth et al., 2009)
Yamaji et al. (2009) examined Japanese subjects for the effect of smoking on gastric cancer. In this study, the researchers identified lifestyle factors and evaluated their independent effect on gastric cancer incidence.
Drinking alcohol has also been identified as a lifestyle risk factor for cancer and excessive drinking may cause or increase the risk of liver, pharynx, larynx, oral, esophageal, colorectal, and breast cancers (Haque et al., 2010). According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' National Toxicology Program (2005), alcohol consumption is considered to be a known carcinogen because the peripheral lymphocytes of alcoholics show more frequent chromosomal aberrations, aneuploidies, and sister chromatid exchanges. Drinking potentiates the detrimental effects of smoking tobacco, making simultaneous alcohol consumption and smoking especially dangerous for the development of cancer (Haque et al., 2010).
Khan et al. (2010) also reviewed studies linking alcohol consumption to breast, lung, and colon cancer. A cohort study found that binge drinking led to a 55% increased risk in breast cancer and regular, moderate drinking also increases risk for breast cancer. For lung cancer, increased risk was associated with high consumption of alcohol and consumption of hard liquors. There was no significant association for light and moderate drinking. Finally, daily consumption of three or more drinks was linked to increased risk of colorectal cancer and consumption of seven or more drinks per week increases the risk of colorectal cancers by 72%. One-fourth of colorectal cancer cases can be attributed to alcohol intake. (Khan et al., 2010).
Boniol and Autier (2010) also examined the pattern of alcohol consumption in Europe as compared to the incidence of cancer. Alcohol consumption matched the pattern of cancer incidence, with higher drinking rates in Eastern Europe and higher female consumption of alcoholic beverages in Ireland and Luxembourg. Slovakia and Hungary, countries with high rates of both alcohol consumption and smoking, had a higher incidence and death rate of oral and pharyngeal cancers. (Boniol and Autier, 2010)
Yamaji et al. (2009) considered the impact of alcohol consumption on gastric cancer as an independent risk factor for developing cancer. They found that non-regular drinkers had a 0.06% rate of developing gastric cancer and the rate of gastric cancer incidence in regular drinkers was significantly higher, at more than triple the rate of incidence for non-regular drinkers. (Yamaji et al., 2009)
Diet can both increase and decrease one's risk for various types of cancer. Habits associated with a good or bad diet may correlate with habits regarding physical activity and weight management. However, there are studies that attempt to separate the effects of diet on cancer incidence, which are discussed below.
Khan et al. (2010) found that high fat consumption led to increased risk of breast, prostate, lung, and colorectal cancers. Saturated fat, in particular, was linked with breast cancer. Animal fat, in particular, was linked with prostate cancer. Fat from red and fried meats was linked with lung cancer. Consumption of high-fat dairy products and processed meat was linked with colon cancer incidence. On the other hand, the authors noted studies demonstrating that increasing one's consumption of fruits and vegetables could help decrease the risk of cancer. (Khan et al., 2010)
Naguib et al. (2010) examined dietary lifestyle factors and their correlations with BRAF and K-ras mutations. There were few significant results in the relationship between diet and mutations. Higher white meat consumption was linked with a higher K-ras mutation rate. Similarly, lower fruit consumption was also linked with higher rates of K-ras mutation. (Naguib et al., 2010)
Boniol and Autier (2010) examined the rates of fruit and vegetable consumption to compare to cancer incidence patterns in Europe. The researchers found some indication that lower rates of consumption of fruits and vegetables were linked with higher rates of cancer in those countries. However, the researchers did not emphasize these results as the sources of data were too heterogeneous to compare and remain within the bounds of sound statistical analysis. (Boniol and Autier, 2010)
Haque et al. (2010) did not focus on increasing rates of cancer, but focused on the preventative characteristics of dietary phytochemicals. The authors noted that certain items added to a diet will increase blocking agents that can prevent carcinogens from reaching targets…