Women are becoming more aware of the association between menopause and an increased risk of some chronic diseases. With conditions such as weight gain, cardiovascular disease, and osteoporosis, menopausal hormonal changes can increase the level of associated risk, however menopausal body changes in themselves do not cause cancer. 

Once people have been diagnosed with cancer, looking at lowering cancer-recurrence risk becomes a key point which many people want to explore. So let’s look at some facts:


What influences our cancer risk?   

                                                      Diet, weight status, and lifestyle choices can influence cancer risk by either positively or negatively affecting the environment in the body where cells are growing and dividing. Our immune system defends us against negative influences, but without enough “backup” by healthy diet and lifestyle factors our cells can become overwhelmed. 

Our chance of developing cancer increases with age, and several diet and lifestyle factors that may become more common through the peri-and post-menopausal years, such as weight gain, sedentary lifestyle, more dining out (and drinking!), and a low quality diet, may also increase cancer risk.


40% of cancers are preventable

Cancers can take years, even decades, to develop, and scientific research shows risk is a combination of our genes, lifestyle, and environment.  We can’t change our genetics but we can influence our diet, physical activity, and other lifestyle habits to lower cancer risk. 

According to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) and its European affiliate, the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF), around 40% of cancers are preventable by reducing exposure to risk factors under our control, including smoking, curbing alcohol intake, diet, weight, and physical activity.    


Cancer prevention recommendation

Over the last 25 years, AICR/WCRF has updated their cancer prevention recommendations three times based on the latest available research on diet, nutrition, physical activity and cancer. Since 2007, the review has also included a rapidly growing amount of research on cancer survivorship.  

The AICR/WCRF rely on only high-quality research to inform their recommendations which are considered the “gold standard” of the science on cancer prevention. All recommendations are backed by scientific evidence, with a goal of clarifying for lay people what cancer prevention information appears “real.”  


What can I do?

The 2018 Ten Cancer Prevention Recommendations for general cancer prevention are summarised here:

  1. Maintain a healthy weight: keep your weight within a healthy range and avoid weight gain in adult life. 

  2. Be physically active as part of everyday life – walk more, sit less. 

  3. Make whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and pulses (legumes) such as beans and lentils, a major part of your usual diet.

  4. Limit consumption of “fast foods” and other processed foods high in fat, starches and sugars. Lowering these foods helps control calorie intake and maintain a healthy weight.

  5. Limit consumption of red meat such as beef, pork and lamb, to 12-18 oz per week. Eat little, if any, processed meat.

  6. Opt for water and unsweetened drinks. There is strong evidence that consuming sugar-sweetened beverages causes weight gain, which is linked to 12 types of cancer.

  7. Limit alcohol consumption. For cancer prevention, it’s best not to drink alcohol, but if you choose to do so, limit your consumption to one drink for women and two for men per day. A serving is 5 oz wine, a 12 oz beer (roughly 4.5-5% alcohol), or 1 ½ shots of spirits.

  8. Do not use supplements for cancer prevention. Aim to meet nutritional needs through diet alone.  Dietary supplements might be warranted in some people, but AICR/WCR cautions against expecting any supplement to lower cancer risk as dietary pattern matters most. 

  9. For mothers, breastfeed your baby if you can: Breastfeeding is good for both mother and baby, and may lower breast cancer risk in the mother, and reduce the child’s risk of obesity later in life.

  10.  After a cancer diagnosis, follow recommendations for cancer prevention, as much as possible.


And, of course, don’t smoke. Taking a long-term approach by picking one strategy to work on at a time may make these recommendations feel more doable.  

Ref: American Institute for Cancer Research. Can Cancer Be Prevented?


Written by: Hillary Wright, MEd, RDN, LDN

Nutrition Educator | Author | Consultant | Co-author or The Menopause Diet Plan


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