Cancer Reserach Update
New Estimates of Cancer Preventability
August 22, 2012 | Issue 103

Also in this issue:

  1. In Brief: Snacks in Your Brain
  2. Carbs Link to Less Common Breast Cancers
  3. Obesity Counseling for Kids Lacking
  4. Obesity Epidemic from Coast to Coast

3 generations of black women cookingNew Estimates: Americans Can Prevent Almost 400,000 Cancers Annually

New AICR estimates released this week show that close to 400,000 cases of cancers in the United States can be prevented each year by eating a healthy diet, undertaking regular physical activity, being at a healthy weight and limiting alcohol consumption.

The updates incorporate the most recent estimates of new cancer cases that will occur. That figure has increased from the 340,000 preventable cases of cancer cited three years ago as incidence has increased.

In the United States, approximately 386,000 cases – one third of the most common cancers – could be prevented, the research suggests. Add smoking cessation to the list of healthy lifestyle habits and more than half of the cancers occurring today are preventable.

Percentage of Cancers that Could Be Prevented
via Diet, Activity and Weight Control*

Cancer Type

Percentage Prevented

Cases Prevented Annually

Breast, female





















Mouth, Pharyngeal & Laryngeal















*Sources: AICR/WRCF, Policy and Action for Cancer Prevention 2009; Cancer Facts & Figures 2012, American Cancer Society.
+The CUP report on Pancreatic Cancer is expected to be released October 2012.

The updated preventability numbers draw upon the findings in AICR/WCRF’s Policy and Action for Cancer Prevention 2009 report. The report estimates the proportion of different cancers that could be prevented through diet, physical activity and weight management for four different areas of the world: the United Kingdom, China, and Brazil, along with the United States.

The AICR/WCRF report, for example, cites that approximately 45 percent of US colon cancer cases and 38 percent of breast cancer cases can be prevented.

With your generous support, AICR funds reserch in diet, physical activity and weight management. Help us asvance our vital research mission with a donation, today.For colorectal cancer, last year’s WCRF/AICR's Continuous Update Project (CUP) report found that excess body fat, abdominal fat, alcohol intake, and red and processed meats increases the risk; physical activity, foods with fiber, and garlic decrease risk. The CUP report on breast cancer found that women can reduce their risk by maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active, drinking less alcohol and breastfeeding their children.

These preventability figures are estimates, but they can help illustrate the importance of lifestyle, says AICR Director of Research Susan Higginbotham, PhD, RD.

“The research is clear that we can reduce our risk for many of the most common cancers through what we eat, how much we move, and staying a healthy weight,” says Higginbotham.

You can watch a video explaining the methodology behind the preventability figures in the Policy Report section.


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In Brief: Snacks in Your Brain

potato chipsHow much you snack may be related to an area of the brain related to reward and pleasure more than how hungry you are, suggests a small new brain-imaging study.

In the study, 25 women first completed a questionnaire that measured how hungry they were. The women had not eaten at least six hours prior to the study.

The women were then shown pictures of non-food items and a variety of different foods. As they were seeing the images, scientists used MRI scanning to look at the activity of a brain region called the nucleus accumbens. This area is associated with motivation and reward.

After an hour, the women rated the food images for desirability and again rated their levels of hunger and food craving. Then everyone was offered the same amount of potato chips. Afterwards, the women rated the food images for desirability and again rated their levels of hunger and food craving.

Brain responses to the foods varied substantially among the individuals. But overall, the study found that it was the brain activity to the food images that determined how many potato chips participants ate, as opposed to the reported feelings of hunger or how much they liked the chips. More research is needed to answer many questions, including whether brain response and levels of self-control are learned or inherited.

Source: Natalia S. Lawrence, Elanor C. Hinton, John A. Parkinson, Andrew D. Lawrence. Nucleus accumbens response to food cues predicts subsequent snack consumption in women and increased body mass index in those with reduced self-control. NeuroImage, 2012.

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Research Roundup

Carbs Link to Less Common Breast Cancers

Fish CrackersPostmenopausal women who eat a lot of breads and other carbohydrates may have an increased risk of the less common but deadlier forms of breast cancer, regardless of their weight, a recent study of European women suggests. The study was published last month in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Previous research is inconsistent on the link between carbohydrates and overall breast cancer risk, but this study may provide clues to the development of breast cancers that lack receptors for the hormones estrogen and progesterone. Tumors that do not have estrogen or progesterone receptors (ER-negative and PR-negative tumors) make up about a quarter of all breast cancers. These cancers are more challenging to treat and relatively more aggressive.

The study looked at the links between breast cancer risk and carbohydrates, glycemic load and glycemic index, which can all raise insulin. Glycemic index is a measure of how much a food raises blood sugar levels; the glycemic load takes into account the amount of food eaten and is generally considered a stronger indicator. The lower the glycemic load, the less it raises blood sugar and insulin levels.

Researchers in this study tracked the health of approximately 335,000 women who were part of the long-running study called the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC). The women had completed questionnaires about what they ate and other relevant information at the start of the study.

After almost twelve years, the study found no link between any type of breast cancer and either carbohydrate consumption or glycemic load.

But when the researchers focused on postmenopausal women and specific forms of breast cancer they saw a link. Women who were in the highest categories of carbohydrate and glycemic load intake had an increased risk of ER-negative breast cancer. There was a slightly stronger link with ER-negative/PR-negative breast cancer.

The findings could indicate differences in how insulin affects the development of different breast cancers. It also may suggest genetic or other differences among the women who develop these types of breast cancers. More research is needed.

Source: Romieu I, et al. Dietary glycemic index and glycemic load and breast cancer risk in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC). Am J Clin Nutr. 2012 Aug;96(2):345-55. Epub 2012 Jul 3.

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Obesity Counseling for Kids Lacking

male doctor talking to young woman

Doctors and other health professionals advise almost half of teenagers they see to eat healthy and about a third to exercise more, but overweight adolescents received the advice far less than those who were obese, according to a recent study published in Pediatrics.

The study used data from a national representative survey of 14,000 adolescents and their parents. The adolescents were 11 to 17 years old and had visited a health provider within a one-year period. Researchers gathered BMI data and health professional advice from the parents.

Overall, health providers advised 47 percent of girls and 44 percent of boys to eat healthy; they recommended 36 percent of their patients exercise more. Obese boys and girls were at least twice as likely to be advised to eat healthy and exercise more compared to their normal weight peers. Yet only about two-thirds of obese girls received dietary advice and slightly over half of obese boys.

And adolescents who were overweight were less likely to receive healthy eating or physical activity advice compared to those who were obese.

A government survey released in January found that 17 percent of children and adolescents are obese. Obese youth are more likely to become obese adults, placing them at increased risk of several cancers as well as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.


  • Lan Liang, Chad Meyerhoefer and Justin Wang. Obesity Counseling by Pediatric Health Professionals: An Assessment Using Nationally Representative Data. Pediatrics. 2012 Jul;130(1):67-77.
  • Cynthia L. Ogden, Ph.D.; Margaret D. Carroll, M.S.P.H.; Brian K. Kit, M.D., M.P.H.; and Katherine M. Flegal, Ph.D. NCHS Data Brief Number 82, Prevalence of Obesity in the United States, 20092010, January 2012

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Obesity Epidemic from Coast to Coast

tape measure around USA mapAmerica’s obesity epidemic stretches from coast to coast and encompasses every state, with twelve states having at least three of every ten residents obese, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey released last week.

Every state had at least 20 percent of its residents report they were obese, the CDC survey found. The estimates have serious implications for our country’s future cases of cancer, as well as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Obesity increases the risk of seven types of cancer, including colorectal and postmenopausal breast.

The estimates come from an annual telephone CDC survey, called the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.

The South had the highest prevalence of adult obesity, with Mississippi ranking the highest at 35 percent. Western states reported the lowest overall obesity with Colorado coming in at the bottom, still having 21 percent of its residents reporting they were obese.

This year, CDC updated their data collection and analysis to improve their results. For example, they called cell phones for the first time as well as landlines.

The updates mean you cannot compare this year’s estimates to those of previous years. But still, obesity rates remain high. A CDC survey released earlier this year estimated that more than one-third of US adults are obese. This survey included interviews, physical exams and lab tests.

Source: Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. Prevalence of Self-Reported Obesity Among US Adults, BRFSS, 2011. August 13, 2012. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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