Cancer risk factors
A risk factor is anything that increases your chance of developing cancer.
Different types of cancers have different risk factors. Risk factors are often related to lifestyle choices, such as smoking tobacco, spending too much time in the sun and not being active. These kinds of risk factors you can change and control.
Other risk factors include things you can’t change or control, like getting older, or having a family history of cancer.
Having one or more risk factors doesn’t mean you will get cancer, but it does mean you’re more likely to develop cancer than someone without that risk factor.
So it is important to know your risk factors and talk with your doctor about the best way to manage them.
Reducing your cancer risk
There is no way to guarantee you won’t get cancer, but evidence shows that up to one‑third of cancers can be prevented by making healthy lifestyle choices.
Click below to learn ways to reduce your cancer risk:
Better still, never start smoking; and avoid secondhand smoke. There is no safe level of tobacco use. Smoking increases the chance of developing many types of cancer and is the biggest preventable cause of cancer.
Ultraviolet (UV) levels in NSW are high enough to damage unprotected skin at least 10 months of the year. Download the free SunSmart app to check UV levels where you live. When UV levels are 3 or above, protect yourself from the sun:
- Slip on clothing that covers your body
- Slop on SPF30+ or ideally SPF50+ broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen
- Slap on a hat that protects your face, ears and neck
- Seek shade whenever you can
- Slide on sunglasses that meet Australian/New Zealand Standards
Being overweight or obese can increase your risk of many different cancers, including bowel and stomach cancers. Keeping your weight within the healthy range and avoiding weight gain as an adult is an important way to reduce your cancer risk.
Aim for 60 minutes of moderate exercise or 30 minutes of vigorous exercise on most days. This is one of the most important ways you can reduce your risk of bowel cancer.
Drinking alcohol increases the risk of many cancers. Alcohol contains a lot of energy (kilojoules or calories), so it can also make you gain weight. If you choose to drink alcohol, stick to the National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines.
Eating processed meat (e.g. salami, ham, bacon) and eating too much red meat increases the risk of bowel cancer. Aim for no more than one small serve of lean red meat per day or two serves on 3–4 days a week. Avoid processed meat.
Vegetables, fruit and legumes (e.g. beans, lentils, peas) contain dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals that can help protect against cancer. They also help prevent weight gain. Aim for two serves of fruit and five serves of vegetables or legumes a day.
Risk factors for different types of cancer
Click on a cancer type below to find out about its risk factors: