Physical activity, sedentary behaviour, diet, and cancer: an update and emerging new evidence

Lancet Oncol. 2017 Aug;18(8):e457-e471. doi: 10.1016/S1470-2045(17)30411-4. Epub 2017 Jul 26.


The lifestyle factors of physical activity, sedentary behaviour, and diet are increasingly being studied for their associations with cancer. Physical activity is inversely associated with and sedentary behaviour is positively (and independently) associated with an increased risk of more than ten types of cancer, including colorectal cancer (and advanced adenomas), endometrial cancers, and breast cancer. The most consistent dietary risk factor for premalignant and invasive breast cancer is alcohol, whether consumed during early or late adult life, even at low levels. Epidemiological studies show that the inclusion of wholegrain, fibre, fruits, and vegetables within diets are associated with reduced cancer risk, with diet during early life (age <8 years) having the strongest apparent association with cancer incidence. However, randomised controlled trials of diet-related factors have not yet shown any conclusive associations between diet and cancer incidence. Obesity is a key contributory factor associated with cancer risk and mortality, including in dose-response associations in endometrial and post-menopausal breast cancer, and in degree and duration of fatty liver disease-related hepatocellular carcinoma. Obesity produces an inflammatory state, characterised by macrophages clustered around enlarged hypertrophied, dead, and dying adipocytes, forming crown-like structures. Increased concentrations of aromatase and interleukin 6 in inflamed breast tissue and an increased number of macrophages, compared with healthy tissue, are also observed in women with normal body mass index, suggesting a metabolic obesity state. Emerging randomised controlled trials of physical activity and dietary factors and mechanistic studies of immunity, inflammation, extracellular matrix mechanics, epigenetic or transcriptional regulation, protein translation, circadian disruption, and interactions of the multibiome with lifestyle factors will be crucial to advance this field.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Diet*
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Health Behavior
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Liver Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Neoplasms / mortality
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Risk Factors
  • Sedentary Behavior*