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  • Research has found that more than a third of cancer deaths in Australia each year could potentially be prevented through lifestyle changes.The findings have been described as ‘‘extremely helpful’’ in the fight against cancer, with Australia and New Zealand having the highest rates of cancer diagnosis in the world.A study by researchers at Brisbane’s QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute examined whether cancer patients from the past 20 years had been exposed to eight key factors.The key criteria included exposure to tobacco smoke, the person’s diet, alcohol consumption, whether they were overweight or obese, levels of physical activity, exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays, infections and hormonal factors.Researchers analysed data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare as well as the Australian Bureau of Statistics to determine how many cancer victims were exposed to or affected by those modifiable factors and how many deaths were theoretically preventable.The head of QIMR Berghofer’s Cancer Control Group, Professor David Whiteman, said the ‘‘extremely helpful’’ findings of the research indicated about 16,700 cancer deaths, or 38 per cent, could potentially have been prevented.Professor Whiteman said the timeframe of the past 20 years was chosen because this has been established as the general ‘‘lag’’ time between people being exposed or affected by these key factors and their deaths as a result of cancer.Tobacco was ruled to be the most influential factor, with smoking and passive smoking having killed almost 10,000 people in 2013 and accounted for 23 per cent of all cancer deaths.Second were dietary factors that contributed to 5 per cent of cancer deaths, while overweight and obesity accounted for 4.5 per cent of cancer deaths.‘‘These findings are extremely helpful for agencies and health service providers who are trying to get a handle on reducing mortality from cancer,’’ Professor Whiteman said. ‘‘Australia and New Zealand have the highest rates of cancer cases in world, but our death rates are not as bad due to our good health systems.’’He said specific aspects of Australian diets and lifestyle had been identified as key contributors to the high rates of cancer diagnosis.‘‘Dietary factors play a key role in bowel cancer, with Australians eating a lot of red meat compared to the rest of the world and not enough fibre, such as fruit and vegetables. Exposure to sunlight is a major factor in melanoma because we are a fair-skinned population living in sub-tropical conditions.’’
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