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World Cancer Day 2021: Spotlight on IARC research related to physical activity and nutrition

World Cancer Day 2021 – Physical activity Home

To mark World Cancer Day 2021, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) is highlighting research related to physical activity and nutrition and how they affect cancer risk.

In the past 30–40 years, three main modifiable factors have emerged that are associated with an increased risk of cancer at several sites: physical inactivity, sedentary behaviour, and overweight or obesity. The incidence of obesity-related cancers is critically affected by dietary composition, physical activity, and sedentary practices. A key and effective measure in the prevention of cancer is to reduce the exposure to modifiable causes of cancer, such as physical inactivity.

Unfortunately, the prevalence of physical inactivity, sedentary behaviour, and overweight or obesity remains high. As lower-income countries progress societally and economically, the reduction in incidence of cancer types linked to poverty-related factors is expected to be offset by an increasing exposure to risk factors linked with industrialized settings, including tobacco use, harmful alcohol consumption, and physical inactivity.

Physical activity

Physical activity: a proven way to lower the risk of developing cancer

Engaging in physical activity is associated with a reduced risk of 13 cancer types. The most recent World Health Organization public health recommendations for physical activity are to do at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity or at least 75 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity activity.

In a recent study by IARC scientists, a higher body mass index (BMI) was associated with a higher risk of developing 12 cancer types. The results of this study include new evidence for an increased risk of developing four haematological cancers and, among never smokers, an increased risk of developing head and neck cancers. For the cancer types that are associated with physical inactivity, sedentary behaviour, and obesity, an estimated 20–40% of the entire burden of these cancer types is due to these risk factors.

In a new video, Dr Elom Aglago, a postdoctoral scientist in the Nutrition and Metabolism Branch at IARC, explains the benefits of regular physical activity and dispels the myth that hitting the gym is the only way to stay active.

Dr Aglago is one of the speakers in an interactive public webinar jointly hosted by IARC and Centre Léon Bérard, Lyon, France, titled “Bouger contre le cancer !” (“Move against cancer!”), at 18:00–19:30 CET on World Cancer Day, 4 February 2021. The webinar, in French, is open to all, but registration is required. Register here

Below are the video featuring Dr Aglago and videos featuring other IARC early career scientists on the topic of physical activity and its impact on cancer risk.

Dr Elom Aglago on cancer and physical activity

Dr Mathilde His on identifying risk factors for breast cancer development

Ms Manon Cairat on nutrition and the risk of breast cancer

Other videos

Other relevant videos

Recently published IARC research

Recently published IARC research related to physical activity and cancer

Further IARC resources

Further IARC resources on physical activity and cancer risk


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