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Finnish study links lifestyle choices to cancer risk: A 40-year analysis

This image captures the essence of health risks associated with alcohol consumption, highlighting an individual's hand and drink without revealing their identity.

23.01.2024 - A comprehensive study in Finland, conducted over four decades, has provided significant insights into how lifestyle factors, including smoking, overweight/obesity, and alcohol consumption, contribute to cancer risk. The study, authored by Seppä K. and colleagues in the European Journal of Cancer, analyzed data from over 250,000 Finnish individuals to assess the impact of these factors on cancer incidence.

Key Findings:

  • A significant portion of cancers in Finland are linked to lifestyle choices.

  • Smoking remains the predominant risk factor, particularly impacting male cancer rates.

  • Overweight/obesity and alcohol consumption are also major contributors.

  • These factors combined account for about 10% of cancer cases.

Smoking is identified as the most substantial risk factor, accountable for 23% of male and 8% of female cancer cases. The population attributable fractions (PAFs) for overweight/obesity were 4% for men and 5% for women, while those for alcohol consumption stood at 7% for men and 4% for women. This indicates that together, excess body weight and alcohol consumption are responsible for approximately one in every ten cancer cases.

These results are a call to action for public health policies focused on lifestyle modifications. The shift in lifestyle patterns observed over the years—such as the decrease in smoking among men and the increase in alcohol consumption among women, coupled with the rising prevalence of overweight and obesity—highlights the evolving nature of cancer risk factors.

The study's comprehensive approach, encompassing factors like physical activity, educational background, and childbirth history in women, adds depth to our understanding of cancer risks. It underscores the need for targeted interventions to address these modifiable risk factors, emphasizing the importance of prevention in cancer care.

"Our results support the key role of avoiding smoking and alcohol consumption and maintaining healthy weight in the primary prevention of cancers. As the prevalence of overweight is expected to increase, more efficient public health measures supporting adherence to a healthy weight are essential to reduce the burden of cancer in the coming decades."

Reference: Seppä K, et al. "Every tenth malignant solid tumor attributed to overweight and alcohol consumption: A population-based cohort study." Eur J Cancer. 2023. DOI: 10.1016/j.ejca.2023.113502.

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