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Men with high genetic chance of bowel cancer could have lower risk with healthy lifestyles

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Men with a high genetic risk of developing bowel cancer over the next 25 years could have a lower risk of developing the disease if they also have a healthy lifestyle, according to a study.

For example, men aged 50 who have a high genetic risk of developing bowel cancer have a 29% risk of developing the disease within the next 25 years. But by living healthily this risk could drop to as low as 13% – if healthy lifestyles are equally beneficial across all the risk groups.

The study – by scientists at The Institute of Cancer Research, London – combined genetic and lifestyle risk factors to help find men at the highest risk of developing bowel cancer. It was funded by Cancer Research UK and published in the journal Genetics in Medicine.

Genetic risks

The research used mathematical models that included 37 different factors that could put people at risk of cancer to calculate how likely it was for a man to be diagnosed with bowel cancer over the next 25 years.

These factors included inherited genetic faults that increase the risk of bowel cancer, as well lifestyle factors affecting risk such as consumption of alcohol, red meat, and fruit and vegetables, body mass index, smoking habits, physical activity, aspirin use and inflammatory bowel disease.

The scientists estimate that 610 cases of bowel cancer could be prevented over the next 25 years in the UK if 10,000 men in the highest risk category had the healthiest lifestyle. For men in the lowest risk group, 70 cases of bowel cancer could be prevented.

Making choices to prevent disease

Professor Richard Houlston, Professor of Molecular and Population Genetics at the ICR, said: “Bowel cancer is one of the biggest cancer killers and the number of cases is going up in the western world. We have made big strides in our understanding of the genetic and lifestyle factors that can contribute to the development of bowel cancer, and that gives us an opportunity to begin assessing people for their future risk.

“If we can identify people who are at strongly increased risk, through both genetic and lifestyle factors, we can begin to give them targeted health messages, aimed at helping them make choices that could prevent the disease.”

Dr Julie Sharp, Cancer Research UK’s Head of Health Information, said: “We know that maintaining a healthy lifestyle reduces the risk of bowel cancer. More than half of bowel cancers could be prevented, largely through lifestyle changes such as being a non-smoker, keeping a healthy weight, drinking less alcohol, being physically active and eating a diet that is low in red and processed meat and high in fibre.”


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