Following Cancer Prevention Recommendations improves survival among older adults

New study finds WCRF/AICR’s Cancer Prevention Recommendations are associated with reduced mortality risk from all causes, cancer and heart disease.

6 July 2022

Maintaining a healthy body weight, being physically active and following a healthy diet can do more than just lower your cancer risk … it can help you live a longer life, too!

A new study led by a team at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), conducted in collaboration with World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) and American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), and published in Current Developments in Nutrition, examined health behaviours and mortality risk in a cohort of over 175,000 older (50–71 years of age at recruitment) Americans. They found that following a lifestyle aligned with the 2018 WCRF/AICR Cancer Prevention Recommendations was associated with a significant reduction in risk of all-cause, cancer-specific and cardiovascular-specific mortality.

Substantial effect on risk

The changes in risk were substantial. The 2018 WCRF/AICR Score is a seven-point, standardised scoring system based on 10 evidence-based Cancer Prevention Recommendations published by the WCRF/AICR in 2018 focused on modifiable lifestyle factors including weight, physical activity, diet factors and alcohol intake. This study found that each one-point increase in the 2018 WCRF/AICR Score was associated with a 9–26% reduced mortality risk, except in current male smokers’ cancer mortality risk; the strongest associations were seen in former smokers.

When high versus lower scorers were compared, older adults who scored 5–7 points were 43–62% less likely to die of all-causes compared to those with 0–2 point scores. The results differed by sex and smoking status, with strongest associations again in former smokers. The findings were similar for cancer and CVD-specific mortality. Associations with cancer and CVD-specific mortality were not significant among male current smokers, though this could have been impacted by the relatively small sample of current smokers in the study; it also supports that smoking is still a major modifiable risk factor when it comes to mortality risk.

Marissa Shams-White, lead Researcher and Program Director at Risk Assessment Branch, National Cancer Institute, said:

Overall, these results support the current evidence of the beneficial impact of healthy lifestyle habits in older adults. It’s never too late to change day-to-day behaviours.

Physical activity, body weight, alcohol and intake of plant-based foods (fruits and vegetables, and fibre intake) were found to be predominant components in the score and had the greatest effect on outcomes in this study population. However, these components were not necessarily the only important factors, but rather provide context for the main contributors to mortality risk in this older adult population, who were relatively healthy, with high mean 2018 WCRF/AICR scores.

Shams-White addded:

Other score components related to the intake of sugar-sweetened beverages, ultra-processed foods, and red and processed meat may have different associations with mortality risk in other populations – such as among younger adults, cancer survivors, or those with pre-existing cardiovascular conditions. It’s important to continue to consider the 2018 WCRF/AICR Cancer Prevention Recommendations together as a whole.

Dr Panagiota Mitrou, Director of Research and Innovation at World Cancer Research Fund, said:

Living a healthy lifestyle really is beneficial and this study is good news for those over the age of 50. It’s never too late to start following our Recommendations, you won’t only be reducing your risk of cancer but also making sure you give yourself the best chance to live a longer, healthier life. Start today by taking our Cancer Health Check and find out how you score. We then have lots of advice and tips on how you can start being healthier.

Nigel Brockton, Vice President Research at American Institute for Cancer Research, said:

This study shows the significant impact of lifestyle factors on living longer healthier lives. Following these simple, evidence-based cancer prevention recommendations that are under our control, is linked to improved cancer-specific, cardiovascular and overall survival in older adults.

The results of this study underline the importance of following WCRF/AICR’s Cancer Prevention Recommendations to reduce cancer risk and mortality. Take World Cancer Research Fund’s Cancer Health Check today and see how you score on our Recommendations. Once people have their results, they can take a look at World Cancer Research Fund’s tips and advice to start making simple everyday changes to their lifestyle, reduce their cancer risk and live longer, healthier lives.


For a copy of the study and media enquiries contact Diana Mackie, Communications Manager at WCRF: / 07717 131883

About World Cancer Research Fund

World Cancer Research Fund examines how diet, weight and physical activity affect your risk of developing and surviving cancer. As part of an international network of charities, we have been funding life-saving research, influencing global public health policy and educating the public since 1982. While society continues searching for a cure, our prevention and survival work is helping people live longer, happier and healthier lives – free from the devastating effects of cancer.

Preventing Cancer. Saving Lives.

World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) is part of a network of charities based in the UK, EU and US.