Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide. The World Health Organization estimates that 7.6 million people die each year from cancer. Deaths from cancer worldwide are projected to continue rising, with an estimated 13.1 million deaths in 2030. While these statistics are alarming, the risk of developing many types of cancer can be reduced by practicing healthy lifestyle habits, such as eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, and tobacco avoidance.

What Is Cancer?

According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) there are more than 100 different types of cancer. All cancers begin in cells, the body's basic unit of life, and can affect any part of the body. Cancers are often named for the organ or type of cell in which they start - for example, cancer that begins in the lung is called lung cancer. The NCI defines cancer as a term used for diseases in which abnormal cells in the body divide without control and are able to invade other tissues. Cancer cells can spread to other parts of the body through the blood and lymphatic systems.

Risk Factors for Cancer

According to the National Cancer Institute, a risk factor is anything that raises or lowers a person's chance of developing a disease. Although doctors cannot always explain why one person develops cancer and another does not, researchers have identified specific factors that increase a person's chances of developing certain types of cancers.

Cancer risk factors can be divided into four main groups:

  • Behavioral Factors: are things you do, such as smoking, drinking alcohol, using tanning beds, eating unhealthy foods, being overweight and not getting enough exercise.
  • Environmental Factors: include things in the environment around you, such as UV radiation, second hand smoke, pollution, pesticides and other toxins.
  • Biological Factors: are physical characteristics such as your gender, race or ethnicity, age and skin complexion
  • Herditary Factors: relate to specific mutated genes inherited from your parents. You have a higher likelihood of developing cancer if you inherit one of these mutated genes.

Children, Physical Activity and Cancer

As with adults, there are lifestyle changes that children can make to prevent and manage high blood pressure.

About 30% of cancer deaths are due to behavioral risk factors. Because these factors are lifestyle risk factors they are ones that can be impacted by making informed healthy choices. By staying at a healthy weight, staying active throughout life, and eating a healthy diet, children may greatly reduce the lifetime risk of developing or dying from cancer. These same healthy lifestyle choices are also linked with a lower risk of developing heart disease and diabetes.

Being overweight or obese has been directly linked with many types of cancer. Physical activity is a key factor in reaching and staying at a healthy body weight and body mass index (BMI). Children should be physically active for at least 60 minutes (1 hour) each day. Most of this activity should be either moderate or vigorous intensity aerobic activity.

To learn more about the physical activity recommendations for children and adolescents visit (AA link to PA Recommendations).

To learn more about Body Mass Index (BMI) visit (AA link to PA ∧ Obesity).

In their Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for cancer prevention, the American Cancer Society has outlined guidelines to help with the risk factors of body weight , physical activity, and diet.

Summary of the American Cancer Society Recommendations on Nutrition and Physical Activity

Achieve and maintain a healthy weight throughout life.
  • Be as lean as possible throughout life without being underweight
  • Avoid excess weight gain at all ages. For those who are overweight or obese, losing even a small amount of weight has health benefits and is a good place to start
  • Get regular physical activity and limit intake of high-calorie foods and drinks as keys to help maintain a healthy weight.
Be Physically Active
  • Adults: Get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity each week (or a combination of these), preferably spread throughout the week.
  • Children and Teens: Get at least one hour of moderate or vigorous intensity activity each day, with vigorous activity on at least three days each week.
  • Limit sendentary behavior such as sitting, lying down, watching TV, and other forms of screen-based entertainment.
  • Doing some physically activity above usual activities, no matter what one's level of activity, can have many health benefits
Eat a healthy diet, with an emphasis on plant foods
  • Choose foods and drinks in amounts that help you get to and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Limit how much processed meat and red meat you eat.
  • Eat at least 2.5 cups of vegetables and fruits each day.
  • Choose whole grains instead of refined grain products

World Health Organization (WHO)

National Cancer Institute

American Cancer Society Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention

Physical Activity and Cancer Brochure

MD Anderson Cancer Center

United States Department of Health and Human Services
Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans - 2018