Live Virtual Presentation Clinical Oncology Society of Australia Annual Scientific Meeting 2020

Preventing cancer: a public health nutrition and advocacy approach (#67)

Clare L Hughes 1
  1. Cancer Council NSW, Woolloomooloo, NSW, Australia

One third of cancer cases in Australia each year are preventable[1]. While many people are aware that tobacco use and UV exposure increase cancer risk; there is lower awareness of the risks associated with excess bodyweight, poor diet, insufficient physical activity and alcohol. Interventions that address these risk factors are vital to prevent cancer and its recurrence.

Public health nutrition is the promotion and maintenance of nutrition-related health and wellbeing of populations through the organised efforts and informed choices of society[2]. A public health nutrition approach to cancer prevention is one that promotes evidence-based healthy eating, physical activity and alcohol recommendations, as well as best practice policy interventions that support people to make healthy choices.

There is considerable misinformation about the diet-related causes of cancer and myths about cancer-fighting foods and diets. The National Health and Medical Research Council’s Australian Dietary Guidelines and Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol, as well as Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines promote behaviours consistent with the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) Cancer Prevention recommendations, relevant monographs from the International Agency for Research on Cancer and nutrition and physical activity advice for cancer survivors.

The WCRF NOURISHING Framework and the World Health Organization Best Buys outline evidence of effective policy interventions to prevent non-communicable diseases associated with excess bodyweight, poor diet, inadequate physical activity and alcohol use. These include marketing restrictions, product labelling, economic tools and public awareness campaigns.  

Cancer organisations can be influential by undertaking and disseminating research on cancer epidemiology and effective policy interventions, establishing themselves as trusted authorities with decision-makers, and working with public health organisations to advocate for evidence-based cancer prevention policy, demonstrating community support for cancer prevention policy and speaking out against food and alcohol industry interests and tactics. 

  1. Wilson et al, 2017. How many cancer cases and deaths are potentially preventable? Estimates for Australia in 2013. International Journal of Cancer.
  2. Definition of the 1st World Congress of Public Health Nutrition, Barcelona, September 2006.