Four in five lung cancers preventable through healthy lifestyle

July 19, 2018 by Lucy Carroll, University of New South Wales
Four in five lung cancers preventable through healthy lifestyle
Credit: Shutterstock

New research from UNSW Sydney reveals the burden of lung cancer in Australia that can be prevented by adopting healthy lifestyle behaviours, such as quitting smoking, boosting fruit intake and being physically active.

A large collaborative study led by UNSW's Centre for Big Data Research in Health pooled seven Australian cohort studies of 370,000 people. The project found that tobacco smoking continued to be responsible for most of the burden in Australia. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in Australia and worldwide.

Dr. Maarit Laaksonen, Senior Research Fellow at UNSW, said: "More than three out of four lung cancers are caused by ever smoking. Current smoking is responsible for more than half of lung cancers and past smoking for nearly a quarter."

The study showed that the lung cancer risk remained elevated for 40 years after stopping smoking, with the risk approximately halving every 10 years. Of the 74,600 lung cancers attributable to current smoking in Australia in the next 10 years, 25,400 could be avoided if all current smokers were to quit. The harms from smoking persist for decades and the findings emphasised the importance of plain packaging and other tobacco control activities that discouraged smoking uptake.

While most current smokers do not describe themselves as 'heavy' smokers, those who smoke fewer than 20 cigarettes a day carry a large proportion of the future lung cancer burden.

The researchers also found that eating two serves (about 300 grams) of fruit each day may reduce the lung cancer burden by 8%, and doing the recommended 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous each week may reduce the lung cancer burden by 16%.

Currently, about 16% of Australians smoke but roughly half of all Australians are not meeting the guidelines for fruit intake and 74% are not meeting guidelines for physical activity.

"The majority of Australians could benefit from increasing their fruit intake and physical activity. But for those who currently smoke, stopping smoking should be the first course of action," Dr. Laaksonen said.

Overall, at least four in five lung cancers appear preventable through behaviour modifications.

For the first time, the researchers were able to compare the lung cancer burden for different population subgroups. They found that men, those less than 75 years of age, those who are unmarried, those with lower educational levels, those living in remote areas of Australia, and those not meeting the fruit consumption or physical activity recommendations, have the highest smoking-attributable burden. Such high-burden groups are likely to benefit most from efforts that help them to not take up smoking, to quit smoking, and to be considered for screening to facilitate early detection.

"Our findings strongly support the dual importance of preventing the uptake of and assisting quitting, in all Australians and especially in those with the highest burden," Dr. Laaksonen said.

Explore further: New research finds lung cancer risk drops substantially within five years of quitting

Related Stories

New research finds lung cancer risk drops substantially within five years of quitting

May 29, 2018
Just because you stopped smoking years ago doesn't mean you're out of the woods when it comes to developing lung cancer. That's the "bad" news. The good news is your risk of lung cancer drops substantially within five years ...

Risk-based lung cancer screening may save more lives than current USPSTF guidelines

January 2, 2018
Lung cancer screening based on individual risk has the potential to save more lives than current recommendations by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF). The findings are published in Annals of Internal Medicine.

A better way to estimate Australia's future lifestyle-related cancers

July 11, 2017
UNSW's Centre for Big Data Research in Health has a new and improved way to estimate the numbers of cancers that could be avoided if Australians changed their lifestyles.

Distorted view amongst smokers of when deadly damage caused by smoking will occur

January 18, 2018
Smokers have a distorted perception on when the onset of smoking-related conditions will occur, a new study in the Journal of Cognitive Psychology reports.

People with HIV who smoke are more likely to die from lung cancer than from HIV itself

September 18, 2017
People living with HIV who adhere to antiretroviral therapy but smoke cigarettes are around 10 times more likely to die from lung cancer than from HIV itself, according to a study led by researchers at Massachusetts General ...

Even smokers may benefit from targeted lung cancer treatments

December 13, 2017
Smokers are less likely than non-smokers to have lung cancers caused by targetable genetic changes. But a study published this week in the journal Clinical Cancer Research shows that when they do, smokers benefit just as ...

Recommended for you

Two ways cancer resists treatment are actually connected, with one activating the other

December 18, 2018
Drugs that target BRAF and MEK in cancer have shown promise in treating a subset of melanoma that carries a mutation in the BRAF gene, but drug resistance usually emerges, reversing the benefit of these drugs and limiting ...

HPV discovery raises hope for new cervical cancer treatments

December 18, 2018
Researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have made a discovery about human papillomavirus (HPV) that could lead to new treatments for cervical cancer and other cancers caused by the virus.

Vaccine, checkpoint drugs combination shows promise for pancreatic cancers

December 18, 2018
Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center discovered a combination of a cancer vaccine with two checkpoint drugs reduced pancreatic cancer tumors in mice, demonstrating a possible pathway for treatment of people ...

Researchers identify ways breast cancer avoids immune system detection

December 18, 2018
Recent breakthroughs in immunotherapy are making a huge difference in treating some forms of cancer, especially metastatic cancer. But breast cancer has proven a tricky foe for this new therapy, and an interdisciplinary team ...

Metal chemotherapy drugs boost the impact of immunotherapy in cancer

December 18, 2018
Due to their powerful tumour-killing effect, metal-based chemotherapies are frequently used in cancer treatment. However, it was hitherto assumed that they damaged the immune system, because of their cytotoxic (cell-damaging) ...

10-year follow-up after negative colonoscopies linked to lower colorectal cancer risk

December 17, 2018
Ten years after a negative colonoscopy, Kaiser Permanente members had 46 percent lower risk of being diagnosed with and were 88 percent less likely to die from colorectal cancer compared with those who did not undergo colorectal ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.