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Updated Cancer Prevention Guidelines 2020: 8 Evidence-Based Recommendations for Cancer Prevention

Last updated July 24, 2020

Did you know? “Nearly half of Canadians are expected to be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives and 1 in 4 Canadians is expected to die of it” (Canadian Cancer Society, 2020). “Cancer is the leading cause of death in Canada and this year alone, the Canadian Cancer Society estimated 225,800 new cancer cases and 83,300 cancer deaths in Canada in 2020” (Canadian Cancer Society, 2020).

Jump to:

  1. What is Cancer?
  2. Quick Statistics
  3. Examples of Risk Factors for Cancer
  4. Changes since the 2012 Guidelines
  5. Summary of Recommendations

What is Cancer?

Cancer is a condition when cells abnormally grow and divide out of control or not die when they should. When these cells contibue to grow and divide they form a lump called a tumour (Canadian Cancer Society, 2020).

There are two types of tumours: non-cancerous (benign) and cancerous (malignant).

  1. Non-cancerous tumours don’t typically spread and don’t come back after they are removed.
  2. Cancerous tumours can grow and spread to other parts of the body through the blood or lymphatic system. When a cancerous tumour is removed, there is no guarantee that it won’t come back as these cells may have already spread to other parts of the body.

Quick Statistics

  • In 2020, it is estimated there will be 225,800 new cancer cases and 83,300 cancer deaths in Canada
  • Cancer is the leading cause of death in Canada (30% of all deaths)
  • Nearly half of Canadians are expected to be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives
  • Lung, breast, colorectal and prostate cancer are the most commonly diagnosed types of cancer in Canada (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer).
  • About 4 in 10 cancer cases can be prevented through healthy living (diet and exercise) and policies that protect the health of Canadians.

About 8 years ago, the American Cancer Society (ACS) released an extensive Guideline for Diet and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention (2012). Recently, they released an updated version of this Guideline for Cancer Prevention just last month. Now, after some extensive reading…I will share all the important tidbits of what I have learned with you!

Examples of Risk Factors for Cancer

  • Getting older
  • Smoking
  • Not protecting yourself from the sun
  • Genetics or family history of cancer
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Not having a healthy diet
  • Not getting enough physical activity
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Coming into contact with harmful chemicals at home or at work
  • Having certain types of infections

Changes since the 2012 Guidelines

1. It is Best Not to Drink Alcohol

The 2012 American Cancer Society (ACS) Guidelines stated it was best to limit alcohol consumption due to the elevated risk of cancer. However, this year, they have stated that “it is Best Not to Drink Alcohol”. The ACS stated that the risk of some cancers increase even with less than one drink per day.

Alcohol has cancerous effects which involve DNA and protein damage, oxidative stress, inhibits DNA repair and inhibits cell death, increased cell replication, affects nutrient absorption, and increases estrogen levels.

If you choose to drink alcohol, limit consumption to no more than 1 drink per day and 2 drinks per day for men.

A Standard drink of alcohol is…

2. Exercise more!

In the 2012 Guidelines for Cancer Prevention, the ACS recommended 150 minutes of moderate exercise and 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity each week. However, recently they found that it may be more optimal to exercise at the upper limit of 300 minutes of moderate exercise and should aim for 75-150 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise each week.

Children should engage in at least 1 hour of moderate-intensity or vigourous-intensity activitiy each day at least 3 days a week.

If you’re thinking this is too much, rest assured as the 2020 Guidelines stated “there was the greatest risk reduction when individuals go from engaging in no physical activitiy to any amount.”

“There was the greatest risk reduction when individuals go from engaging in NO physical activitiy to ANY amount.”

The American Cancer Society, 2020

3. Eat more Fruits and Vegetables

Previously, the 2012 ACS Guidelines recommended 2.5 cups of vegetables and fruits each day but that has since increased to 2.5 to 3 cups of vegetables and 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit each day.

4. Juice cleanses won’t prevent cancer

Juice cleanses market themselves as helping detoxify and cleanse the body of toxins. Scientific evidence does not support this.

Toxins that enter our body through the foods and beverages we consume are continually eliminated by the kidneys and liver, regardless of whether a person is consuming liquid or solid.

Summary of Recommendations

1. Avoid Drinking Alcohol

It is best not to drink alcohol. People who do choose to drink alcohol should limit their consumption to no more than 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men.

2. Watch Your Weight

Be as lean as possible throughout life without being underweight. Avoid weight gain in adult life.

3. Exercise and Do More Cardio Exercise but specifically Aerobic moderate-to-vigorous physical activity

It is important to exercise and stay physically active. Cardiovascular exercise at a moderate-to-vigorous intensity has shown to have preventative measures against cancer.

 Target heart rate during moderate intensity activities is about 50-70% of maximum heart rate.
Target heart rate during vigorous physical activity it’s about 70-85% of maximum.

Physical activity shown to improve bodily functions (insulin/glucose metabolism, immune function, inflammation, sex hormones, oxidative stress, genomic instability and myokines) that would supposedly lower the risk of specific types of cancers.

Achieving or exceeding the upper limit of 300 minutes is optimal.

The American Cancer Society, 2020

4. Eat a “Mediterranean” diet

Common foundation between healthy dietary patterns:

  • Mostly plant foods including non-starchy vegetables, whole fruits, whole grains, legumes and nuts/seeds.
  • Healthy protein sources higher in beans and legumes, and/or fish, and/or poultry and lower in processed meats and red meat
  • Diets low in unsaturated fats, lower added sugar, saturated and or/trans fat and excess calories.
  • Limit or does not include sugar-sweetened beverages, candy and other foods that do not resemble their original plant or animal sources.
  • Limit consumption of “fast foods” as they are high in saturated fat, starches and added sugars.

5. Dietary supplements can be useful

Dietary vitamins and supplements can correct or prevent a deficiency or insufficiency (e.g., pregnant women and people with dietary restrictions). The 2020 ACS Guidelines stated there is low evidence to support a role for supplements in cancer prevention.

6. Choose Whole Foods

Whole foods are foods that resemble their original source and are refined and modified as little as possible. Many healthy compounds are found in vegetables and fruits and it is likely that these compounds work together for a more beneficial effect. There are important compounds in whole foods, not yet identified, that are not included in dietary supplements.

Food is the best source of vitamins, minerals and other bioactive components. Supplements only contain a small fraction of the levels contained in whole foods.

7. Build Healthy Sleep Patterns

Inadequate sleep has been associated with elevated stress hormones and inflammation, known mechanisms driving cancer risk.

8. Decrease Screen Time

There is a growing concern regarding increased sedentary time or time spent sitting over the past few decades. When we are not working or in school, we are spending more and more time on the computer, telephone or watching television. Increased sitting time is associated with premature mortality, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease and can indirectly increases your risk of cancer.

The consistent message in cancer prevention is to …
Eat healthy and exercise regularly, if not more!

If you’re looking for an exercise program

We have experienced physiotherapists who will work one-on-one to address your needs and concerns. They will review the exercises and provide feedback on intensity, repetitions and technique.

Also, we are open for in-person appointments with reduced hours. Simply hit the book appointment and you can book a session today. If you find this information helpful and would like to learn more, let us know in the comments below and follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.


  1. The Canadian Cancer Society, Retrieved on July 23, 2020.
  2. Rock, C.L., Thomson, C., Gansler, T., Gapstur, S.M., McCullough, M.L., Patel, A.V., Andrews, K.S., Bandera, E.V., Spees, C.K., Robien, K., Hartman, S., Sullivan, K., Grant, B.L., Hamilton, K.K., Kushi, L.H., Caan, B.J., Kibbe, D., Black, J.D., Wiedt, T.L., McMahon, C., Sloan, K. and Doyle, C. (2020), American Cancer Society guideline for diet and physical activity for cancer prevention. CA A Cancer J Clin. doi:10.3322/caac.21591
  3. Kushi, L.H., Doyle, C., McCullough, M., Rock, C.L., Demark‐Wahnefried, W., Bandera, E.V., Gapstur, S., Patel, A.V., Andrews, K., Gansler, T. and (2012), American Cancer Society guidelines on nutrition and physical activity for cancer prevention. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, 62: 30-67. doi:10.3322/caac.20140

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