Healthy lifestyle ‘halves’ genetic cancer risk

Aug 2022

Researchers have found that living a healthy lifestyle from 40 upwards can cut risk of fatal cancer in men at high genetic risk.

LIVING a healthy lifestyle from 40 upwards almost halves a man’s chances of developing severe, life-threatening prostate cancer – even if he has a strong family history of the disease. 

Researchers found that maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, eating healthy foods and avoiding smoking had a dramatic impact on cases of fatal cancer in men at high genetic risk. 

The landmark study, published in the journal European Urology, is being seen as the strongest evidence yet that living healthily can, to a very large extent, offset a man’s unfortunate genetic make-up that predisposes him to the disease. 

The researchers behind the study, an international team from Sweden and the US led by experts at Harvard Medical School in Boston, stressed there was no evidence that a healthy lifestyle reduced a man’s chances of actually getting prostate cancer if it was in his DNA.  

But the likelihood that it would be an aggressive tumour that would lead to his premature death was reduced by 45 per cent – as long as he remained physically active, slim and ate healthily. 

In a report summarising their results the researchers said: ‘Our findings suggest a genetic predisposition to prostate cancer is not deterministic for a poor outcome. 

‘Maintaining a healthy lifestyle may provide a way to offset the genetic risk of the disease.’ 

Having a father, uncle or brother with prostate cancer ramps up a man’s chances of developing the disease, too.

It’s estimated that more than half those with a strong family history will fall ill with it themselves, compared to less than 10 per cent of those with no affected relatives. 

And while living healthily is already known to partly protect against a wide range of cancers, it wasn’t clear – until now – whether it made any difference in those carrying high-risk genes for prostate cancer. 

To find out, the research team tracked 12,411 men aged 40 to 75, who were all taking part in a long-term health study, over a 27-year period (2003-2019). 

The study recorded how many went on to develop prostate cancer and also collected blood samples to analyse their genetic profiles. 

Each man’s risk of prostate cancer was calculated through something called a polygenic risk score. 

These are used to calculate a person’s chances of developing certain illnesses, compared to someone else with a different genetic constitution. 

They are a rough indicator of future health based on someone’s DNA and their medical history; the higher the score the greater the risk. 

The results showed that men with a family history of the illness who ate a poor diet, did little exercise and piled on the pounds were much more likely to suffer life-threatening forms of prostate cancer. 

Those pursuing a healthier lifestyle were no less likely to get cancer but significantly less likely to die from it. 

The researchers added: ‘The inherited risk of prostate cancer may not be modifiable through lifestyles in mid and late adult life.  ‘But tumour promotion and progression among those at the highest genetic risk may be.’

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