Following a healthy lifestyle may reduce the genetic risk of cancer, study finds

Photo (c) fcafotodigital - Getty Images

Regular exercise should be an important part of consumers’ daily routines

A new study conducted by researchers from the American Association for Cancer Research explored how consumers’ lifestyles can impact their risk of developing cancer. According to their findings, adopting healthy habits may reduce the risk of developing cancer -- even when a genetic risk is present. 

For the study, the researchers were interested in determining participants’ risk of developing cancer based on their individual lifestyles and genetics. While a polygenic risk score (PRS) is typically used to gauge consumers’ risk of developing specific types of cancers, the team was more interested in figuring out the likelihood that participants would develop any type of cancer.

“A PRS indicating risk of a certain cancer is important but not enough,” said researcher Guangfu Jin. “We tried to create an indicator -- the cancer polygenic risk score (CPRS) -- to measure the genetic risk of cancer as a whole.” 

The team calculated CPRS for men and women separately and then utilized data from the U.K. Biobank to put their findings to the test. More than 200,000 men and 230,000 women answered questions about their lifestyles, including diet, physical activity, and drinking and smoking habits. The researchers also assessed the participants’ family backgrounds to determine the genetic component of their cancer risk. 

Healthy lifestyles lower cancer risk

The study showed that those with the most unhealthy lifestyles and the highest genetic risk of cancer were the most likely to develop the disease; women were nearly 2.4 times as likely to be diagnosed with cancer, while men were nearly three times as likely to receive a cancer diagnosis. However, having a higher genetic risk didn’t mean participants were guaranteed to develop cancer; the researchers found that healthy habits helped protect consumers. 

Women with healthy lifestyles and high genetic risks were 3.69 times as likely to develop cancer within five years, compared to women with unhealthy lifestyles who were more than 5.7 times as likely to get a cancer diagnosis in that time frame. Men with unhealthy lifestyles were the most susceptible to cancer, as poor health and a genetic predisposition made men more than seven times more likely to be diagnosed with cancer within five years. 

The findings highlight the importance of sticking to healthy habits, including regular physical activity, avoiding smoking, and maintaining a healthy diet. 

“This suggests that almost everyone is susceptible to at least one type of cancer,” Jin said. “It further indicates the importance of adherence to a healthy lifestyle for everyone.” 

Find a Medical Alert System partner near you.