How to reduce the risk of cancer?

13 May 2021

However, cancer remains the second leading cause of death globally. The World Health Organisation (WHO) report about 1 in 6 deaths worldwide are due to cancer.

As medical science learns more about these complex range of diseases, they also learn there are things we can do to reduce our chances of getting cancer in the first place.

Cancer is a complex group of illnesses with many causes. The American Cancer Society say it is thought that some cancers may be linked to exposure to ‘risk factors’

A risk factor is anything that might increase your chances of acquiring an illness. 

Not everyone exposed to a risk factor will get cancer and, if they do, it isn’t always possible to prove the link. Medical researchers see patterns where some people exposed to certain risk factors appear to develop cancers. 

Many of these risk factors are within our control. 

Cancer research UK estimates 4 in 10 cases of cancer in the United Kingdom could be prevented by changing our habits. 

Reduce your risk of getting cancer by:

Using tobacco products of any kind is damaging to your health. Cigarette smoking is the most common form of tobacco usage around the world but all forms of tobacco are harmful. The WHO say tobacco use kills 8 million people per year globally.  Medical research shows tobacco use puts us at much greater risk of developing lung, bowel and many other types of cancer. 

It is important to understand that there is no ‘safe level’ of tobacco use. The best thing you can do for your health and to reduce your chances of getting cancer is to stop. It is never too late to stop either. Studies show that people who stop smoking increase their lung capacity by 10% in 9 months. And that is only one of the benefits you can look forward to if you stop smoking. Others include:

  • Having more energy
  • Feeling more relaxed 
  • Being financially better off
  • Improved fertility
  • Improved smell and taste
  • Younger looking skin

To name a few. 

That said, quitting smoking is difficult but with a plan and support the benefits to your health and wellbeing make it well worth it. 

Observational research has shown that those who exercise regularly are at a reduced risk of developing cancer. Although it isn’t fully understood why increased physical activity leads to fewer cancer diagnosis it is thought to be linked to the:

  • Lower levels of insulin
  • Lower levels of hormones
  • Reduced inflammation
  • Improved immune system function

That those who exercise regularly are shown to have. 

The US department of health recommends 150-300 minutes of moderate physical activity a week in addition to weight bearing exercise. This is only about 45 minutes per day. Walking is an excellent way to start getting more movement into your day. Get started by getting off public transport a stop early, clear your head with a lunchtime walk or take the stairs where you can – it all counts as exercise. 

Understanding the link between food and cancer is challenging. Most people eat a varied diet so it is difficult to study which foods may increase the risk of cancer. There are some long-term studies underway that hope to improve our understanding of this area. However, current scientific evidence shows some links between our diets and colon cancer, breast and stomach cancers. Try to maintain a diet that is

  • Rich in fruit and vegetables
  • High in fibre
  • Low in saturated fats, red and processed meats

Alcohol use has been linked to several cancers. In the US it is thought to be responsible for 6% of diagnosis of a range of cancers including liver, mouth and throat cancer. Exactly how alcohol increases cancer risk is not entirely understood but research to date indicates in may be linked to:

  • Damage to body tissue
  • Impact on the absorption rate of some nutrients
  • Effects on hormones in women
  • Effect on body weight

The best advice when it comes to reducing cancer risk is to avoid alcohol. However, if you do choose to drink alcohol, limit your intake. 

Exposure to UV light from the sun has been shown to damage the genetic material in your skin. If enough damage is caused over time this may lead to skin cancer. The best way to reduce your risk is to:

  • Use sunscreen every day
  • Wear a hat
  • Seek out shade
  • Stay out of the sun during the hottest part of the day
Take part in any cancer screening your government may offer and have additional screening tests each year if you can. Regular screening increases the chance of catching cancer at its earliest stages when removal and treatment are much easier. 

Although there is no guaranteed way of preventing cancer, by limiting your exposure to these risk factors you are helping to reduce your risk.