Understanding of lifestyle factors essential to lowering cancer rates

Written by Alojz Peterle on 14 May 2015 in Opinion

Citizens have a personal responsibility to make the appropriate lifestyle changes for reducing their cancer risk, argues Alojz Peterle.

Each and every one of us has a key role to play in our own cancer prevention. As the yearly European week against cancer (25-31 May) is once again upon us, this is an issue on which I would like to shine a light.

Thanks to progress in research and the sciences, we now have the knowledge and tools to recognise the lifestyle changes needed to reduce cancer risk, as well as the forums to raise awareness and spread the message. 

Citizens are now empowered with the understanding that when it comes to cancer prevention, they can take matters into their own hands, and that the main responsibility to adopt a healthy lifestyle in order to reduce cancer risk lies with them.


In terms of communicating this responsibility, urging people to adopt lifestyle changes - 'do not smoke', for example - can be simple yet powerful. The world health organisation (WHO) estimates that 70 per cent of the global lung cancer burden can be solely attributed to smoking. Each year on 31 May, world cancer day reminds us to avoid or kick this deadly habit. 

But this is not enough - we must also remember other lifestyle factors, such as ensuring a degree of physical activity in our daily routine, having a healthy diet by increasing our fruit, vegetable and whole grains intake, as well as reducing consumption of high calorie and processed foods and sugary drinks. Evidence reveals that Europeans who adopt healthy dietary and activity behaviours and stick to cancer prevention recommendations have an estimated 18 per cent lower risk of cancer.

The European code against cancer, which was revised last October, aims to guide people towards a set of clear lifestyle changes that help reduce their risk of cancer. It is important for European citizens to know that around 50 per cent of all cancers could be avoided if they took individual actions and followed the recommendations issued in the code against cancer.

The European code against cancer is a joint initiative by the commission and the WHO's international agency for research on cancer, and was revised last October. It aims to guide citizens towards a set of clear lifestyle changes that the individual can adopt to reduce their risk of cancer. It is important for European citizens to know that about 50 per cent of all cancers could be avoided if they took individual actions and followed the recommendations issued in this code. 

In addition, the guidelines emphasise that the responsibility to adopt a healthy lifestyle in order to prevent cancer should be supported by governmental policies. Governments must be proactive in facilitating and promoting a healthy lifestyle.
Smoke-free policies are a perfect example of a government initiative that reduces tobacco consumption for smokers, while protecting non-smokers from exposure to second-hand smoke.

We can close the cancer inequality gap by urging citizens to take charge of minimising their cancer risk. I created parliament's MEPs against cancer (MAC) group in 2008 based on the belief that as parliamentarians, we can collaborate with others and successfully support policies that create environments to help people take individual actions to avoid cancer. 

Since its inception, the MAC group has been an active and respected forum for MEPs from all member states and all political groups to discuss the entire spectrum of European cancer control, exchanging views with a wide range of stakeholders, including other MEPs, scientific experts, commission officials, researchers, member state representatives and, most importantly, cancer patients and survivors.

Last September, the MAC group was renewed for the new parliamentary term. Our ambition for this legislature is to reduce the incidence of cancer by promoting prevention, reducing mortality by ensuring equitable access to high quality treatment and ensuring a good quality of life for cancer patients and survivors. 

My vision as president is to form MAC groups in national parliaments across the 28 member states. This will facilitate cooperation and ensure harmonisation between European and national policy, in order to develop an efficient cancer policy that works best for our citizens.


About the author

Alojz Peterle (EPP, SI) is president of MEPs against cancer

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