If you read My Weekly magazine, you may have seen its advice on how to “cancer-proof your life”.
They gave 10 pieces of advice for changes people could make to reduce their cancer risk and I’m afraid to say we were disappointed by the result.
We’re concerned that rather than give people information they need to make their own informed choices, articles like this can actually add to the confusion.
In this post, I will look at some of the points in the article.
Tea and Toast
My Weekly suggests having tea for breakfast to help prevent cancer.
But actually there is no strong evidence that drinking tea affects cancer risk one way or the other. There is certainly not enough evidence to advise people to drink it to reduce cancer risk.
With toast, My Weekly recommends only having lightly browned toast because of the formation of acrylamide.
Advising people not to eat burnt toast is certainly more sensible than the advice on tea, but the cancer link is not as clear as the article suggests.
Despite what the article says, there is no strong evidence that eating lots of trans fats increases your cancer risk.
According to the Food Standards Agency, though, there are other good reasons besides cancer risk not to eat too much of them.
My Weekly is correct when it repeats our advice on processed meat.
There is convincing evidence that eating processed meat increases risk of bowel cancer.
My Weekly suggests that having two cups of coffee every other a day can reduce liver cancer risk by 41%.
But the reality is there is not enough evidence to suggest that coffee affects cancer risk one way or the other.
My Weekly suggests women with high blood sugar levels may be at increased risk of cancer.
It is true there is some research that has produced results that seem to suggest that women with high blood sugar levels may be at increased risk of cancer.
But more research is needed before we could be confident enough that this is actually the case to warrant giving health advice on the basis of it.
Eat Your Greens
My Weekly advises us to eat a bowlful of watercress a day and identifies broccoli as a “cancer fighting superfood”.
It is true that research has shown fruits, vegetables and wholegrains probably reduce risk of cancer. This is why we recommend eating plenty of them.
But there is no strong evidence to support the idea that one fruit or vegetable is particularly good.
Instead, you should focus on having as wide a variety as possible – that is the best way of getting a range of nutrients.
Fish and cancer
My Weekly claims it is a “fact” that eating fish every other day will reduce your risk of bowel cancer by a third, compared to those who eat it fortnightly.
But it’s just not possible to be this confident.
Our Expert Report looked at the evidence on fish and bowel cancer and found that although the evidence seems to suggest it might reduce risk, this evidence is not strong enough to be confident. It’s what the Report termed as “limited suggestive”.
The media and cancer prevention
It is a real shame My Weekly has printed this article because we know that people are confused about cancer prevention advice and get the impression that scientists are always changing their minds. Actually, the advice has remained similar for over a decade.
The problem is not that the studies My Weekly has mentioned are bad ones.
But single studies are like a piece in a jigsaw puzzle – you need to put them together before they start to give a clear picture on how we can reduce our cancer risk.
The irony is that World Cancer Research Fund already has 10 Recommendations for Cancer Prevention.
These were made by an independent panel of 21 scientists after an analysis of more than 7,000 studies and we are confident they represent the best available advice on preventing cancer through diet, physical activity and weight.
This means the article was a missed opportunity because they could have easily reproduced our 10 Recommendations and given their readers some really useful information.
I have been in touch with the editor of My Weekly about our concerns. She has suggested that in future they may run another piece that looks at our advice.
I’ll post again if I hear any more on this.