A team of researchers in the United States and Taiwan have found links between eight common chronic diseases or conditions and cancer and five unhealthy lifestyle choices that include smoking, insufficient physical activity, insufficient fruit and vegetable intake, alcohol consumption and obesity.

The team found that several common chronic diseases account for more than one-fifth of new cancer cases and more than one-third of cancer deaths.

The results were published on Jan 31 in The BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal).

The study was led by Wu Xifeng, a professor at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston; Chi Pang Wen, professor at National Health Research Institutes in Taiwan; and Chwen Keng Tsao of MJ Health Management Institution in Taiwan. The first author is Tu Huakang, postdoctoral fellow at MD Anderson.

The researchers set out to investigate the combined effect of eight common chronic diseases or disease markers - for example, high blood pressure as a marker of heart disease - on cancer risk compared with lifestyle factors.

The study involved 405,878 men and women in Taiwan with no history of cancer. They completed a questionnaire on medical history, lifestyle and demographic information and underwent a series of medical tests between 1996 and 2007. Weekly leisure time physical activity also was measured, according to the team's news release. Participants were followed for about eight years.

The researchers found that cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, pulmonary disease and gouty arthritis were individually associated with the risk of developing cancer, possibly fatal.

Higher chronic disease risk scores were linked with an increased risk of developing cancer and death from cancer, with the highest levels associated with a more than twofold increase in the risk of developing cancer and a fourfold increase in the risk of cancer death.

High chronic disease risk scores also were associated with substantial reduction in life span. The highest scores were associated with 13.3 years of life lost in men and 15.9 years of life lost in women.

The findings in chronic diseases and lifestyle factors can help doctors treat patients more efficiently, Tu said.

"Researchers have found that cancer is the number one feared disease for most people, yet they tend to be reluctant to take active measures to control and treat chronic diseases. This finding should give doctors tools to help patients to realize the seriousness of chronic conditions," Tu said.

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