Quitting smoking, exercising more, and eating healthier have been shown to have a positive impact on cancer risk, according to a new study. Even limited improvements yielded results.

L­­ifestyle changes, even at an older age, can reduce cancer risk­­ 

Even modest achievement of New Year's resolutions can reduce future risk of cancer. This is shown in a new study from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH).

Many of us optimistically make New Year's resolutions at the turn of the year, and most of us probably experience that these resolutions are broken or not followed up as we had hoped each year. But they don't have to be wasted for that reason.

A new study from the Cancer Registry of Norway at NIPH shows that even modest achievements of New Year's resolutions have the potential to reduce future cancer risk. The study shows that healthy changes in physical activity, body weight, alcohol consumption and smoking were associated with a significant reduction in cancer risk, regardless of the original levels.

Small changes helped

“If you manage to make changes following health recommendations in one of these factors, if not all, it contributes to a lower risk of later receiving a cancer diagnosis,” says Edoardo Botteri, senior researcher at the Cancer Registry of Norway.

The researchers found that a relatively small change, such as reducing the intake of alcoholic beverages by one glass per day or losing three to five kilos in weight, reduced the risk of lifestyle-related cancers by four per cent.

“Those who made the biggest changes had as much as a 25 per cent reduction in risk. This means that good lifestyle changes will be a real investment in future health,” says Botteri.

He believes that the results show that it is never too late to make good health-related changes, even in adulthood.

Followed up for 15 years

“We saw in this study that those who were healthiest at the start and remained healthy had the very lowest subsequent risk of cancer. Regardless, what’s important is that those who started with a less healthy lifestyle, but managed to make good changes, reduced their subsequent risk,” he says.

The study included around 300,000 people from eight European countries, including 23,000 Norwegian women. They were followed up over a period of 15 years in midlife. It was led by researchers from the Cancer Registry of Norway and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is WHO's organisation for cancer research.


Botteri et al. Changes in Lifestyle and Risk of Colorectal Cancer in the European Prospective Investigation Into Cancer and NutritionThe American Journal of Gastroenterology, 2023. 


Translated by Alette Bjordal Gjellesvik

Read the Norwegian version of this article on forskning.no

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