SYDNEY - A major study has pointed to five "common sense" rules said to reduce the incidence of bowel cancer, along with a range of other life-threatening illnesses.

The rules, outlined in a Danish research paper published on Wednesday, were estimated to cut rates of bowel cancer in a community that followed them by almost a quarter.

Including limits for girth, exercise and alcohol intake, the rules were also a "good general health message" capable of protecting against wide range of disease, said Bowel Cancer Australia (BCA).

"It is common sense ... it's a good general health message," said Dr John Riley, chair of BCA's medical advisory board.

"It reinforces the advice that is given by all health care professionals to all our patients out there who are sedentary, overweight, eat too much fat, and smoke, and drink too much.

"If you exercise regularly, keep your weight down, eat a healthy diet ... then it probably reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and some cancers including colorectal cancer."

Lung cancer and pancreatic cancer could also be added to the list as a result of not smoking, Dr Riley said.

The rules - drawn from advice issued by the World Health Organisation, World Cancer Research Fund and other groups - noted in the study were:

* Be physically active for at least 30 minutes a day.

* Have no more than seven drinks a week for women, and 14 drinks a week for men.

* Be a non-smoker.

* Have a waist circumference below 88 cm for women, and 102 cm for men.

* And have a healthy diet.

Researchers from the Danish Cancer Society's Institute of Cancer Epidemiology, in Copenhagen, undertook the 10 year study of more than 55,000 men and women in middle age.

None had bowel cancer at the beginning of the study but, 10 years later, 678 were diagnosed with it.

The researchers calculated that if all but the healthiest of participants had followed just one extra rule, it was possible that 13 per cent of the bowel cancer cases could have been prevented.

If all participants had followed all five recommendations, then 23 per cent of the bowel cancer cases could have been avoided.

"Our study reveals the useful public health message that even modest differences in lifestyle might have a substantial impact on colorectal cancer risk," the research, published online by the British Medical Journal (, concludes.

"... And emphasises the importance of continuing vigorous efforts to convince people to follow the lifestyle recommendations."

BCA encourages Australians aged over 50 years, and who do not have symptoms or a family history of bowel cancer, to undertake a bowel cancer screening test every one to two years.