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How can you reduce your cancer risk? 1 in 3 cancers are preventable

20 March, 2020
Family shopping cancer smart

According to the World Health Organisation, cancer is the second leading cause of death worldwide. For every six deaths globally, one is due to cancer. The good news is that around one in every three cases of cancer can be prevented through diet and lifestyle. These lifestyle measures include managing your weight, reducing your intake of red and processed meats, reducing your alcohol intake, increasing your intake of vegetables and fruits, keeping active, stopping smoking and reducing your exposure to the sun.

Manage your weight

It’s important to maintain a healthy weight as it reduces your risk of developing several types of cancers as well as other conditions like heart disease and diabetes. It’s important to only eat and drink as much as your body needs and keep up physical activity. For more information, read about how to lose weight, healthy eating and fitness and exercise at Healthdirect Australia.

If you’re a healthy weight, your risk of developing the following cancers decreases significantly:

  • breast (post-menopausal)
  • bowel
  • kidney
  • liver
  • endometrium
  • ovaries
  • stomach
  • oesophagus
  • gallbladder
  • pancreas
  • prostate

Reduce your intake of red and processed meats

According to the World Health Organisation, processed meats are known to cause cancer and red meat is thought to probably cause cancer. Eating more than 700 grams of red meat a week increases your risk of bowel cancer and for every 50 grams of processed meat you each day, your risk of bowel cancer goes up 1.18 times.

To reduce your risk, the Cancer Council recommends eating no more than one serve of lean red meat each day or two serves of red meat three to four times a week. They also recommend that you completely avoid all processed meats.

Processed meats include:

  • ham
  • bacon
  • salami
  • chorizo
  • cabanossi
  • frankfurts

Red meat includes beef, lamb and pork.

Reduce your alcohol intake

Drinking too much alcohol is another risk factor for developing certain types of cancer. You should limit your drinks to two standard drinks a day and keep in mind that a standard drink isn’t necessarily a glass of wine or bottle of beer. Often alcoholic drinks at a restaurant or that your pour yourself contain more than one standard drink. To find out more, read the standard drinks guide at the Department of Health.  

According to the Cancer Council, alcohol increases your risk of developing the following cancers:

  • mouth
  • breast
  • throat
  • oesophagus
  • bowel
  • liver

Increase your fruit and vegetable intake

It’s important to keep up your intake of vegetables and fruits each day to reduce your cancer risk. The Cancer Council and the Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend eating five serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit each day. One serve of vegetables is equal to one cup of salad, or half a cup of cooked vegetables. One serve of fruit is equal to one medium apple or 2 apricots. You can find out more about serve sizes from the Australian Dietary Guidelines.

The following nutrients in fruit and vegetables work in combination to reduce your cancer risk:

  • fibre
  • vitamins
  • minerals
  • antioxidants
  • phytochemicals

Keep active

To reduce your cancer risk, it’s important to keep up your physical activity levels. The Cancer Council recommends exercising for 30 minutes five times a week to reduce your risk. Regular physical activity also helps to maintain a healthy weight which is also protective against cancer.

If you’re able to manage 60 minutes of moderate or 30 minutes of vigorous activity each day, your risk of developing cancer decreases even more. It’s important to remember that doing any physical activity at all is helpful.

Quit smoking

We all know smoking causes lung cancer, but it also increases your risk of many other cancers as well. Smoking can cause many cancers including mouth cancer, oesophageal cancer, stomach cancer, bowel cancer, and ovarian cancer.

It’s best to quit smoking completely, but if you’re not able to do that, it’s a good idea to cut down how many cigarettes you’re smoking. You can read our article on how to quit smoking for good to get more information.

Reduce your sun exposure

Here in Australia, it’s especially important to make sure you don’t spend too much time out in sun. According to the Cancer Council, ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun causes more than 95% of all skin cancers. If UV levels are above three, you should be using sun protection. This includes clothing, sunscreen and sunglasses.

Sun safety tips:

  • cover as much of your skin as you’re able to and with a dark fabric that’s tightly-woven
  • apply at least a SPF30+ sunscreen 20 minutes before you go outside and reapply every two hours.
  • wear a wide-brimmed hat to protect your ears and neck
  • stay in shade as much as possible
  • wear sunglasses that meet the Australian standard

Separate myth from reality

If you’re not sure if a particular situation or substance causes cancer, you can check on the Cancer Council’s website. The website uses scientific research to debunk common myths about cancer including if wearing a bra to bed or drinking from plastic water bottles causes cancer.


All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified healthcare professional.


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