The cancer risk factors you might not be aware of yet

7 October 2016 | Kathy Chapman

CCNSW Prevention Campaign image

Thanks to successful public health campaigns, most Australians know about the harms of overexposure to UV radiation and smoking. Each year, thousands of cases of skin cancer are prevented because people are more sun-smart, and smoking incidence keeps decreasing – all enormous steps on the journey to beat cancer.

Low awareness of lifestyle risks beyond smoking and sun

However, we need to do more to generate awareness for other lifestyle risks factors that contribute to someone’s cancer risk. In our community survey, we found that many of the 3000 people we asked aren’t nearly as aware that poor diet, being overweight, not doing enough physical activity and drinking too much alcohol also influence cancer risk.

For example, 6 in 10 people aren’t aware that being overweight is a risk factor for cancer. More than half the people (59%) in our survey didn’t associate insufficient fruit and vegetables intake as contributing to cancer risk. One-third of people don’t know that eating too much red meat can increase your cancer risk. More than a quarter of people mistakenly think that a suntan protects against melanoma and other skin cancers.


Our new prevention campaign

This is why Cancer Council NSW recently launched its new campaign – 1 in 3 Cancers. The name refers to the fact that 1 in 3 cancer cases in Australia could be prevented. That’s over 37,000 preventable cases per year in Australia.

Four of the top five most commonly diagnosed cancers in Australia – lung, bowel, melanoma and breast cancers – are among the most preventable. To motivate and empower people to make healthy choices, we need to talk about all these factors that contribute to someone’s cancer risk.

At the same time, we are also committed to continuing to fund research into cancer treatments and causes, so as to improve outcomes and understand what causes the other two-thirds of cancer cases – those which are caused by unmodifiable risk factors such as age or genetics and those which evidence hasn’t linked to lifestyle habits.

So what can I do?

In short, these are the things that you can do to stack the odds of preventing cancer in their favour:

  • Don’t smoke. Smoking is the biggest risk factor for preventable cancer, causing 15,500 cancer cases each year. It is responsible for 1 in 5 of all cancer deaths in Australia.
  • Protect yourself from the sun by slipping on clothing that covers shoulders, arms and legs; slopping on SPF30+ or higher sunscreen; slapping on a broad-brimmed hat; seeking shade and sliding on sunglasses. More than 95% of all skin cancers are caused by UV radiation from the sun.
  • Achieve a healthy weight. Evidence shows that being overweight or obese significantly increases your risk of 11 different types of cancer, with nearly 4,000 cancer cases caused by obesity each year in Australia.
  • Cut down on alcohol. Cancer Council NSW recommends cutting down alcohol by consuming no more than 2 standard drinks per day. Alcohol consumption is responsible for more than 3,200 cancer cases each year.
  • Cut down on red and processed meats. Eating too much red meat is associated with increased risk of bowel cancer. Avoid consuming more than 455g of lean red meat each week.
  • Eat more fruit and vegetables. To reduce cancer risk Cancer Council NSW recommends eating 2 serves of fruit and 5 serves of vegetables every day. Around 4% of cancer cases in Australia could be prevented if people ate enough fruit, vegetables and fibre.
  • Be physically active. Cancer Council NSW recommends at least 60 minutes of moderate or 30 minutes of vigorous physical activity every day, for maximum cancer prevention benefits. Over 1,800 cases of bowel, breast (post-menopause) and endometrial cancer could be prevented each year by being more physically active.

If you want to find out your current cancer risk – and to learn how you can stack the odds of preventing cancer in your favour – visit our campaign website, Our cancer risk quiz will give you insights in what behaviours you should keep up, and highlight areas for you to improve. You hold the cards to reducing your cancer risk!

For any other information about and support for anything related to cancer, please call Cancer Council’s 13 11 20 Information and Support Service.