About the campaign
Why the 1 in 3 Cancers Campaign was created
Preventing cancer is key to helping beat cancer. Research has found that every year in Australia approximately 44,000 – or more than 1 in 3 cancer cases – can be prevented. In 2016, Cancer Council also conducted research with a range of people across NSW including men and women, cancer patients and carers. This research found that there is a need to raise awareness within the community about the lifestyle factors that reduce cancer risk, and that some people don’t believe that cancer is preventable. Based on these findings the 1 in 3 Cancers Campaign was developed.
This was the first time that Cancer Council had implemented a mass media campaign to raise community awareness that 1 in 3 cases of cancer are preventable. The campaign also aims to empower people to make lifestyle choices now, to reduce their cancer risk in the future. We want people to stack the odds of preventing cancer in their favour by: not smoking, protecting themselves from UV exposure, achieving a healthy weight, cutting down on alcohol, cutting down on red and processed meats, eating more fruit and vegetables, and being physically active.
Information and Support for Cancer Patients and Survivors
Cancer Council aims to support people affected by cancer through all stages of their cancer. We focus on ensuring that people living with cancer know that they are not alone in their cancer experience. This has been core to our mission over the last 60 years and will not change. We have many information resources and support services for people with cancer. The focus of the 1 in 3 Cancers Campaign is to help prevent cancer, but we are here for all people facing cancer including family, carers and health professionals. Call Cancer Council 13 11 20 Information and Support to talk to a qualified cancer health professional about the broad range of services we have available to help you.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is cancer?
Cancer is a disease of the cells, which are the body’s basic building blocks. The body constantly makes new cells to help us grow, replace worn-out tissue and heal injuries. Normally, cells multiply and die in an orderly way.
Sometimes cells don’t grow, divide and die in the usual way. This may cause tissue cells, or blood or lymph fluid, in the body to become abnormal. Lumps, or tumours, formed by abnormal cell growth can be benign or malignant. In a benign tumour, cells are confined to one area and are not able to spread to other parts of the body. A benign tumour is not cancer. A malignant tumour is made up of cancerous cells, which have the ability to spread by travelling through the bloodstream or lymphatic system (lymph fluid).
What evidence supports the campaign? What new evidence is the campaign referring to?
There is new and growing international evidence indicating that a healthy lifestyle can reduce the risk of cancer. Research published in 2018,1 which is the most up to date analysis estimating the number of Australian cancer cases caused by specific lifestyle factors, found that 44,000 cases of cancer – or more than 1 in 3 cancer cases – could be prevented.
The lifestyle choices that increase the risk of developing a range of different cancers include:
- Cigarette smoking
- UV exposure / radiation from the sun and sunbeds
- Unhealthy weight
- Alcohol consumption
- Red and processed meat consumption
- Inadequate fruit and vegetable consumption
- Physical inactivity.
In fact, a poor diet, being overweight, not doing enough physical activity and drinking too much alcohol collectively contribute to nearly the same number of cancer cases as smoking.
Cancer Council’s recent community survey also found that while there is high awareness across NSW that smoking and UV exposure all contribute to a person’s risk of getting cancer, there is still low awareness that being overweight, eating a poor diet, drinking alcohol and not being physically active can also increase a person’s risk of getting cancer.
This campaign aims to empower people to make lifestyle choices to reduce their risk of getting cancer in the future, and stack the odds of preventing cancer in their favour.
1 Whiteman DC et al. Cancers in Australia in 2010 attributable to modifiable risk factors: summary and conclusions. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health. 2015 Oct; 39(5): 477-484.
- How can I get more information about reducing my cancer risk?
What types of cancers are preventable?
There is definitive evidence that 20 different types of cancer are potentially preventable by 7 lifestyle choices. 4 of the 5 most commonly diagnosed cancers are linked to lifestyle choices and so potentially preventable. These 4 cancers are breast, bowel, melanoma and lung cancer. Although many cases of these cancers are preventable, not all people who get these cancers could have prevented their cancer.
The following behaviours increase the risk of being diagnosed with the following cancers:
- Cigarette smoking: Lung, mouth, throat, nose, sinuses, oesophagus, bladder, kidney, ureter, pancreas, stomach, liver, cervix, myeloid leukaemia, ovarian and bowel cancers
- UV exposure: Melanomas and non-melanoma skin cancers
- Overweight/obesity: Breast (post-menopause), bowel, kidney, liver, endometrial, ovarian, stomach, oesophagus, thyroid, gallbladder, pancreatic, multiple myeloma and prostate (advanced) cancers
- Alcohol: Mouth, throat, oesophagus, bowel, stomach, liver and breast cancers
- Red and processed meat: Bowel and stomach cancers
- Insufficient fruit and vegetable consumption: Bowel, stomach, lung, mouth, throat and oesophagus cancers
- Physical inactivity: Bowel, breast (post-menopause) and endometrial cancers
Not all cases of cancer listed above can be prevented by making healthier lifestyle choices recommended by the campaign. We know that 2 in 3 cancer cases in Australia are caused by risk factors that are not modifiable including age, genetics, family history, chronic inflammation, immunosuppression and hormonal changes.
If 1 in 3 cancer cases are preventable, what does that mean for the other two-thirds?
We know that approximately two-thirds of cancer cases in Australia are caused by factors that are not as easily modifiable, or not yet modifiable. These include age, genetics, family history, chronic inflammation, immunosuppression and hormonal changes.
We also know that exposure to other risk factors not mentioned in this campaign are preventable although they may not be within an individual’s ability to control or easily avoided. These risk factors include the Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C infection, menopausal hormone therapy and other hormonal medications, regular occupational exposure to carcinogens including asbestos, diesel fumes and other cancer causing chemicals, as well as high-dose radiation.
Evidence continues to strengthen around which lifestyle factors increase cancer risk and which help to prevent cancer. In the future, as we find out more about the causes of cancer, we may find that a larger proportion of cancers are preventable.
I have been smoking/eating processed meat/drinking alcohol etc. all my life. Is it too late for me to reduce my cancer risk?
It’s never too late to make healthy changes that will reduce your cancer risk. There is now overwhelming evidence that many of your daily lifestyle choices can make a big difference to your cancer risk. When it comes to smoking, evidence shows that there are benefits to quitting smoking at any age and those benefits are bigger the earlier you quit. Smokers who quit before they are 45 years live nearly as long as someone who never smoked. Within 5 years of quitting, a woman’s risk of cervical cancer is the same as someone who never smoked.
Even small changes to your lifestyle can help such as choosing an extra serve of fruit for dessert, walking a little more each day, or drinking 1 less glass of wine. By making healthier lifestyle choices, you not only help reduce your risk of cancer but also other chronic illnesses including heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.
I don’t understand why the cards are different colours? And why do some have a tick and others an exclamation mark?
The different coloured cards indicate whether a lifestyle factor increases or reduces your cancer risk. The yellow cards with ticks represent healthy behaviours that we recommend you pick up or maintain. These behaviours reduce the risk of developing cancer. Blue cards with exclamation marks represent risky behaviours that we recommend you cut down to reduce your cancer risk. The smoking card is black with an exclamation mark to indicate that it is a risky behaviour and there is no safe level of exposure so we recommend it is cut out altogether. Each card also has a counter card that indicates swapping to a healthier behaviour. For example, swapping wine with water; swapping too much sitting (couch) time with walking (a running shoe); protecting yourself from the sun with sunscreen.
I already have/have had cancer, so is there any point in making lifestyle changes now?
Getting back to a healthy lifestyle after cancer is one of the most important things you can do for your health. Every little bit helps and making healthy lifestyle choices can also reduce the risk of cancer recurrence.
Research shows that if you continue to smoke, you are more likely to develop another type of cancer. Being a healthy weight can help prevent the recurrence of breast, bowel and prostate cancers. Physical activity can improve muscle strength, stamina, self-esteem, quality of life, and reduce common side effects of cancer treatment such as fatigue, nausea, pain, anxiety and depression. One study has suggested that physical activity after diagnosis reduces bowel cancer deaths by up to 30%.
Cancer Council NSW offers a number of healthy lifestyle programs for cancer survivors.
Am I to blame for getting cancer? Was it my fault I got sick?
Every case of cancer is different and we’re not suggesting that everyone who has been diagnosed with cancer could have done something to prevent it.
For some cancer types, like brain cancer, there is no evidence that they could have been prevented through healthy lifestyle choices. For other cancer types, such as breast cancer, there are some cases that may be preventable through healthier lifestyle choices and others that may not be. Other factors that could contribute to a person developing cancer include their genetics or family history of cancer, age, gender, and hormonal factors such as the onset of menopause.
We know that, in general, a third of cancer cases could be prevented through healthier lifestyle choices. It is by no means our intention to make people with cancer, families and carers feel in any way that there is something they could have done differently. This is about looking forward – we want people to know that they hold the cards to reducing their future cancer risk.
For people who have already been diagnosed with cancer, choosing to follow a healthier lifestyle can help to reduce the risk of the cancer recurring as well as improve their quality of life.
Doesn’t everything cause cancer?
The media often reports on studies that link many different risk factors to cancer, especially when the information is new or unusual. However, these research findings are often based on one study, which might not be that robust, and may be grounded on early studies in animals or small numbers of people. Further research is often needed to be sure that their findings are credible and that they are relevant to the human population.
The 1 in 3 Cancers Campaign is based on the latest international peer-reviewed evidence looking at the entire body of evidence about what we do know causes cancer. It challenges the belief that, as individuals, we do not have control over our risk of developing cancer by specifically highlighting each of the lifestyle factors that we know increase cancer risk.
The research supporting the campaign, on the number of Australian cancer cases that can be prevented, is similar to studies conducted in other countries and with comparable findings.
To find out more about cancer myths and facts please visit Cancer Council Australia iHeard.
Doesn’t red wine provide health benefits, like keeping my heart healthy?
Recent evidence suggests that any potential health benefits gained from consuming red wine have been over-estimated. Some people believe that red wine helps to keep your heart healthy, however the Heart Foundation does not recommend alcohol consumption for the treatment or prevention of heart disease.
Alcohol consumption increases your risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, stomach, oesophagus, bowel, liver and breast. In terms of cancer risk, there is no safe level of consumption and the evidence shows that the more you drink, the greater the risk.
Cancer Council advises people limit their alcohol consumption. For people who choose to drink, it is advised that they follow the Australian Alcohol Guidelines which recommend people consume no more than 2 standard drinks a day.
Do artificial sweeteners, food additives and pesticides cause cancer?
There is evidence suggesting that some food additives, preservatives, pesticides and other chemicals used in food manufacturing and packaging can be toxic at high doses. However, there is strict regulation of these substances in Australia by Food Standards Australia New Zealand and no evidence that the low levels permitted in Australian food cause cancer.
There is no convincing scientific evidence to support the claim that plastic bottles cause cancer. The evidence suggests that low levels of artificial sweeteners (saccharin and cyclamate) found in ‘diet’ drinks and some foods are unlikely to cause cancer.
Cancer Council recommends eating a healthy balanced diet of: fruits, vegetables and legumes; wholegrain and high-fibre cereal foods; lean meat, poultry, fish and eggs; and reduced fat milk, yoghurt and cheese. We also recommend limiting your intake of fast foods and highly-processed foods and drinks high in added fats, sugars and salt. This will control your intake of food additives and other chemicals as well as reduce your risk of cancer by helping to maintain a healthy body weight.
I thought lean red meat was healthy. Why does it increase my cancer risk?
Lean red meat can be an important source of iron, zinc, vitamin B12 and protein. However, there is now a clear body of evidence that bowel cancer is more common among those who eat too much red meat. It is not completely understood how red meat increases bowel cancer risk. One likely reason is that when naturally-occurring chemicals in red meat break down in the gut they form carcinogenic (known to cause cancer) substances that can damage the cells that line the bowel, leading to bowel cancer.
There is no reason to cut red meat completely from your diet but there are steps you can take to reduce your cancer risk. Aim for a small 65g serve of cooked meat each day or 2 serves (130g) 3-4 times a week. Avoid consuming more than 455g of lean red meat each week.
Vegetarian diets can be healthy and balanced too. However, if you don’t eat meat or other animal foods, it is important to ensure you are getting enough protein, Vitamin B12, iron, zinc, calcium and omega 3 fatty acids.
How can I protect myself from UV exposure and still get enough vitamin D?
We get most of our vitamin D through exposure to the sun and we need it for healthy bones and muscles and to reduce the risk of osteoporosis, a condition causing brittle bones. Most Australians have sufficient vitamin D. Some groups in the community may be at higher risk of low vitamin D such as people who spend little time outdoors and people who cover most of their skin for religious and/or cultural reasons. People with naturally very dark skin may also need more exposure to UV radiation for adequate vitamin D while people with very fair skin or at high risk of skin cancer may need to take extra care to protect their skin.
2 in 3 Australians will be diagnosed with some form of skin cancer before the age of 70 however, luckily, skin cancer is highly preventable. The majority of people living in Australia can balance their risk of skin cancer from too much UV exposure with meeting their daily vitamin D requirements by being sun safe (wearing protective clothing, applying sunscreen, wearing a hat, seeking shade, and wearing sunglasses) when the UV index is 3 or above.
People who may be at risk of vitamin D deficiency should discuss their vitamin D requirements with their GP.
Are electronic cigarettes as bad as normal cigarettes? Can I use them as a quitting device?
There is evidence that electronic cigarettes contain a number of potentially harmful chemicals, but at much lower levels than tobacco cigarettes. However, there is not enough evidence to make conclusive claims that e-cigarettes are safer than tobacco cigarettes. The effect of electronic cigarette use over the long term has not yet been studied and there is also very little evidence that electronic cigarettes help smokers quit smoking tobacco cigarettes.
In Australia, products promoted to assist people break a chemical addiction must be approved as safe and effective by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) based on sufficient evidence. Electronic cigarettes have not been approved by the TGA for use in breaking nicotine addiction.