6 Tips for preventing cancer: 1 in 3 Aussies could avoid cancer

What if you were handed a magic wand and could wave away some of life’s unwanted “challenges” such as cancer? I can hear the fatalists sighing now that it’s all a pipe dream and that we have no control over what happens to us … yada yada yada. The thing is we really can prevent some cancers, according to the Cancer Council, that body of authority not prone to outlandish pronouncements.

The Cancer Council has done what it does best and crunched the numbers to show that 1 in 3 cancers in Australia could be prevented. That’s 37,000 Australians who could avoid a cancer diagnosis each year.

The study, funded by Cancer Council Australia and conducted by QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, identified 13 risk factors to give Australians added motivation that a healthier lifestyle change really can pay dividends in cutting your risk of the Big C. Admittedly those 13 risk factors are not new. We already know the Russian Roulette we’re playing with smoking, UV radiation, body weight, poor diet and alcohol consumption. These factors alone cause around 90% of all cancers that could be prevented. If we know we can do something about this, what’s stopping us?

Summary of the Findings

Let’s look at a summary of the findings:

Cancer Type Number of cases estimated to be preventable through modifying lifestyle each year
Lung 8569
Colorectal (Bowel) 7404
Melanoma 7220
Breast cancer 3233
Source: Cancer Council

We’re well aware of, or at least we should be, the association with smoking but, interestingly, the study shows that 7,000 new cancer cases a year are also attributable to low fruit and vegetable intake, low fibre intake and eating excess red meat. One in six colorectal cancer cases in the study was attributable to inadequate intake of dietary fibre. The Cancer Council also tells us that around 800 fewer cases of colon cancer would have been diagnosed in the study year if all Australian adults had consumed less than 65 grams of red and processed meats per day.

People are confused about fad diets and mixed health messages, but the Cancer Council points to clear evidence that a diet rich in vegetables, fruit and whole grains, with foods consumed in moderation, will cut your cancer risk. These healthier choices also reduce obesity, the cause of 3,900 cancer cases in its own right, and balance over-consumption of red and processed meats, which account for a further 2,600 cases.

Not surprisingly, alcohol consumption causes the largest number of lifestyle preventable cancers – over 3,200 of which could have been cut just by sticking to the recommended 2 drinks per day.

6 ways to help prevent cancer

Reducing the odds of contracting a preventable cancer requires a lifestyle change but relax: this can be done in simple steps. Here are a few suggestions to get you thinking about the way you live your life and how you could alter certain aspects in order to be counted as one of the 37,000 Australians who ducks that cancer diagnosis.

1. Eat more fruit, veg, and wholegrains

The study shows that 7000 new cancer cases a year are directly related to low fruit and vegetable intake, low fibre intake and excess red meat.  So try adding some more fruit and vegies into your diet at every meal – put some apple in your porridge, add some salad to your sandwich and snack on some fruit or vegie sticks.

2. Quit smoking

Many people know about the link with smoking and lung cancer, but what they might not know is that smoking causes 16 different types of cancer. The good news is, as soon as you quit your body starts repairing – despite your age or how long you have been smoking.

Give the Quitline (13 7848) a call, no matter what stage of quitting you are at, for some personalised support.

3. Slip, slop, slap, seek, slide

Australia has some of the highest UV levels in the world. In fact UV radiation is strong enough to cause sunburn in just 11 minutes on a clear day in January.

One of the best barriers between your skin and the sun is clothing, so try to cover up as much skin as possible. And while you are at it slop on some sunscreen (make it SPF 30 or higher broad spectrum and water resistant), slap on a broad brimmed hat, seek shade; and slide on some sunglasses! Extra points if you download the SunSmart app which lets you know when you do and don’t need sun protection.

4. Ease up on alcohol

It doesn’t matter what type of alcohol you drink, your cancer risk is the same for all types of booze – whether it’s beer, wine or spirits. Luckily, you can reduce your cancer risk by cutting back on the amount of alcohol you drink or choosing not to drink alcohol at all.

5. Watch your waistline

Cancer Council research shows that a waistline of more than 94 cm for men and 80 cm for women increases the risk of some types of cancer.  A waistline of more than 102 cm for men and 88 cm for women greatly increases your risk.

Stay on the safe end of the measuring tape by reducing your intake of high fat foods and drinks, choosing no-fat or reduced-fat milk and dairy products and opting for white meat or vegetarian options over red meat.

6. Start moving

Just one hour of moderate activity, or 30 minutes of vigorous activity daily can cut your risk of cancer. There’s no need to run a marathon every day, or pump iron; just try getting more activity into your daily routine. Try getting off the bus a few stops early or parking further away at the shops so you can get some more steps in. Make social occasions by going for a walk with a friend instead of getting a coffee.

These are just a few simple steps toward a healthier lifestyle! And there is no need to go Paleo, vegan or quit sugar. For more information on doing something positive to reduce your cancer risk, go to cutyourcancerrisk.org.au

Cancers in Australia in 2010 attributable to modifiable factors was commissioned by Cancer Council Australia and conducted by QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute. It has been published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health.

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