Updated Lifestyle Advice to Reduce Cancer Risk


Several studies have found that obese men have higher-grade prostate cancers at diagnosis and a higher risk of cancer recurrence after radical prostatectomy and radiation treatment than men who are not obese. Recently updated guidelines from the American Cancer Society (ACS) provide advice on diet and physical activity that can help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Following the advice may also help lower the risk of developing cancers linked to excess body weight

The updated guideline is similar to the 2012 version but takes a stronger stance on activity, diet, and alcohol than it had in the past. While the 2020 ACS recommendation for physical activity is generally consistent with those of the current government guideline—175 to 300 minutes of moderate aerobic activity a week—the ACS calls for exceeding the upper limit of 300 minutes whenever possible for optimal cancer prevention.

The ACS also strongly encourages people to avoid red and processed meats, along with sugar-sweetened beverages, and highly processed foods and refined grain products—all of which are associated with cancer—instead of merely calling for just limiting them, as the ACS suggested in the past. In 2012, the ACS recommended that people should limit alcohol consumption; now it suggests avoiding all alcohol. That’s because all forms of alcohol—wine, beer, liquor—contain ethanol, a known cancer-causing substance. And the ACS continues to urge people to maintain a healthy weight—being overweight or obese is a known risk factor for cancer. Losing just a few pounds can lower cancer risk. 

WHAT ELSE YOU SHOULD KNOW: At least 18 percent of cancer cases and 15 percent of cancer deaths are associated with a combination of inactivity, an unhealthy diet, overweight or obesity, and alcohol consumption. Only cigarette smoking accounts for more cancer deaths, at 30 percent. 

WHAT YOU SHOULD DO: To reduce your risk of cancer, follow the 2020 ACS guidance: 

  • Try to engage in more than 300 minutes of moderate physical activity (like walking), or 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity (jogging), each week for optimal cancer prevention. That boils down to 45 minutes of moderate, or 20 minutes of vigorous, activity a day. If that seems daunting, aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate, or 75 minutes of vigorous, activity a week.
  • Focus on an overall healthy eating pattern instead of on specific foods and nutrients. A well-rounded diet should include a colorful variety of vegetables and fruits and plenty of whole grains, brown rice, and legumes (lentils, beans, peas).
  • Avoid red meat and processed meats (beef, pork, lamb, sausage, bacon, deli meats, hot dogs), sugar-sweetened beverages (soda, fruit drinks, energy drinks), highly processed foods (ready-to-eat or heat foods, snack foods, cake, candy), and refined grain products (white bread, white rice).
  • Don’t drink or drink only in moderation. Men should drink no more than two alcoholic beverages a day.