Seven ways to reduce your cancer risk

Few people realise that at least one-in-three cases of cancer is preventable and the number of cancer deaths could be reduced significantly if we all adopted a cancer smart lifestyle. More than 13,000 cancer deaths each year are due to smoking, sun exposure, poor diet, alcohol, inadequate exercise or being overweight or obese.

Healthy lifestyle choices not only reduce your cancer risk but also increase your overall health and reduce your risk of other health problems such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and high blood pressure. For a cancer smart lifestyle, just follow Cancer Council’s seven simple steps.

1. Quit smoking

Quitting smoking is one of the most important things you can do to reduce your risk of cancer. Tobacco smoke contains more than 4000 chemicals, including over 60 carcinogens. When you inhale cigarette smoke, these chemicals enter your lungs and spread through your body. Read the quit smoking factsheet or find out more or if you need further assistance, contact the Quitline on 13 78 48.

2. Eat for health

Healthy eating habits are a first step in reducing your cancer risk. A healthy diet, combined with regular physical activity and a healthy body weight, can help protect against cancers including cancer of the bowel, liver, oesophagus, lung and stomach.

So cut down on the cookies, say no to the cake and yes to healthy snacks! Make fruit, vegetables, cereals and other low fat food the basis of your diet. Try for two servings of fruit and five servings of vegetables daily. Read the healthy eating factsheet to find out more.

3. Maintain a healthy weight

We understand that it can be difficult to juggle work and family with making time to look after your own health, but maintaining a healthy body weight, being physically active every day and enjoying a healthy diet can lower your risk of developing cancer. To maintain a healthy weight, enjoy regular physical activity and eat a range of healthy food. Find out more about maintaining a healthy weight.

Click NEXT to find out more ways to reduce your risk of cancer

4. Be SunSmart

We are constantly hearing about Australia’s frighteningly high incidence of skin cancer. More than 430,000 Australians are treated for skin cancer a year and there are more than 1800 deaths from melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers each year. However, skin cancer is largely preventable. Be SunSmart. Protect yourself and your family against sun damage and skin cancer by using these five steps:

  1. Slip on sun protective clothing
  2. Slop on SPF 30+ sunscreen
  3. Slap on a hat (broad brim or legionnaire style)
  4. Seek shade
  5. Slide on sunglasses

Remember to monitor your skin regularly and if you notice any changes, consult your GP.

5. Limit alcohol

There is convincing evidence that drinking alcohol increases the risk of cancers of the bowel, breast, mouth, throat, voice box, oesophagus and liver. Even drinking small amounts of alcohol increases your cancer risk. The more you drink, the greater the risk.

When drinking alcohol:

  • choose low alcoholic drinks
  • avoid binge drinking
  • have no more than two standard drinks a day
  • have at least two alcohol-free days a week
  • eat some food when you drink.

The type of alcohol you drink doesn’t make any difference. Beer, wine and spirits all increase your risk of cancer. Check if you need to reduce your alcohol intake.

6. Move your body
Don’t let your sneakers gather dust in the wardrobe. The more physically active you are, the more likely you are to reduce your cancer risk. Physical inactivity is an important risk factor for bowel cancer and breast cancer, and possibly prostate, uterine and lung cancer.

For good health, do at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise on most, preferably all days of the week. It doesn’t have to be continuous.

We’ve got a few great tips to get you sweating it out and burning calories in no time:

  • join a gym
  • walk or run with colleagues/friends early in the morning or during your lunch break
  • get up half an hour earlier than you usually would to go for a walk or jog around your suburb
  • instead of meeting up for a meal or coffee, catch-up with friends by going for a brisk walk or participating in a gym class together
  • if you catch public transport to work, get off a stop earlier and walk the rest of the way
  • park your car 10-15 minutes from work, and walk the rest of the way

Read the factsheet to learn clever ways to keep active.

7. Get checked
Between work deadlines and family commitments it’s nearly impossible to find time for a doctor’s appointment to discuss that strange looking mole or curious lump. But finding cancer early offers one of the best chances to cure the disease. If you notice any differences, consult your GP.

Some things to look out for include:

  • lumps, sores or ulcers that don’t go away
  • unusual changes in breasts for women or penis and testicles for men
  • coughs that don’t go away, show blood or a hoarseness that hangs around
  • weight loss that can’t be explained
  • bleeding in between periods
  • moles that have changed shape, size or colour
  • blood in your bowel motions
  • persistent abdominal pain or bloating

These symptoms are often related to more common, less serious health problems. However, if you notice any unusual changes, or these symptoms persist, visit your doctor.

There are three screening programs available to Australians:

  1. Women aged 50 to 69 should have a mammogram (breast x-ray) every two years. Mammograms look for early breast cancers in women without symptoms and can reduce the risk of breast cancer death by 25 per cent, particularly in women aged 50-69. BreastScreen Australia is a breast cancer screening program offering free screening mammograms to women aged over 40 years, specifically targeting women aged 50-69 years.
  2. Women should have a Pap smear every two years from the age of 18, or within two years of becoming sexually active. Up to 90 per cent of cervical cancers can be prevented through regular Pap smears. For more information, see the National Cervical Screening Program.
  3. Early detection of bowel cancer greatly improves the chances of successful treatment. If you are 50 years or over, you should be tested for bowel cancer every two years. The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program uses the faecal occult blood test (FOBT) to detect hidden blood in bowel motions. People without symptoms aged 50, 55 and 65 are eligible to participate. From 1 July 2013, people turning 60 will be included; people turning 70 will be included in 2015. For more information and to find out if you are eligible for a test, contact the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program.

So there you have it: seven simple ways to help reduce your cancer risk.

Lifestyle isn’t the only factor when it comes to cancer; genetics and plain bad luck have their part to play too. But rather than worry about getting cancer, you have the ability to take control and reduce your risk as much as possible.

If you need more information or would like to talk to someone please call on 13 11 20 (local call cost anywhere in Australia) or visit