It is estimated that at least one third of all cancer cases are preventable,1 and that potentially more than half of all cancers could be avoided through a combination of healthy lifestyle and regular screening.2,3 Prevention offers the most cost-effective long-term strategy for the control of cancer across the population.4
There are a number of modifiable lifestyle factors that can reduce risk of cancer, some of which have health benefits beyond cancer in the prevention of chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory diseases and type 2 diabetes.
Recommendations for adults to reduce their risk of cancer and stay healthy
- Don’t smoke: The greatest preventable cause of cancer is tobacco, which increases the risk of lung cancer and certain other cancers. Cancer Australia recommends not smoking and avoiding exposure to second-hand smoke to reduce cancer risk.
- Maintain a healthy weight: Overweight and obesity increase risk of certain cancers. Cancer Australia recommends achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight within a BMI range of 18.5 to 25 kg/m2 to reduce cancer risk and a waist circumference below 94 cm for men and below 80 cm for women.
- Be active: Sedentary behaviour increases risk of weight gain, overweight and obesity, and may increase risk of certain cancers. Conversely, physical activity protects against certain cancers, as well as limiting weight gain. Cancer Australia recommends aiming for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity every day and limiting sedentary habits, such as watching television, to reduce cancer risk.
- Eat a balanced and nutritious diet: A balanced diet rich in plant-based foods, including fruit, vegetables and other foods containing dietary fibre, may protect against certain cancers. Cancer Australia recommends consuming adequate dietary fibre, including unprocessed cereals (grains) and pulses (legumes), and aiming for five servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit per day. Cancer Australia recommends limiting intake of red meat, processed meat and salt to reduce cancer risk.
- Limit alcohol consumption: Alcohol increases risk of certain cancers and interacts synergistically with smoking to increase risk of oesophageal and oral cancers. If alcoholic drinks are consumed, Cancer Australia recommends limiting daily alcohol intake to reduce cancer risk.
- Be sun smart: Ultraviolet (UV) radiation and UV-emitting solaria increase risk of melanoma and other types of skin cancer. Cancer Australia recommends avoiding excessive sun exposure and solaria, and wearing sunscreen and protective clothing to lower risk of skin cancer.
- Reduce risk and protect against infection: A range of infections, such as the human papillomavirus (HPV), or chronic infection with the hepatitis B or C viruses, increase risk of certain cancers. Cancer Australia recommends vaccination to protect against HPV and hepatitis B, and other protective behaviours, such as safe sex and safe injection and blood transfusion practices, to reduce risk of hepatitis C.