Reduce your risk of getting cancer!

Cancer is a scary thought and something many of us may worry about – especially as we get older. So reduce your risk of getting cancer with these top tips.

1. Quit those cigarettes

According to Cancer Research UK, smoking is related to eight out of ten cases (80%) of lung cancer in the UK. It also increases the risk of many other types of cancers including mouth cancer, stomach cancer, bowel cancer, bladder cancer and kidney cancer. A study in 2011 estimated that smoking causes nearly a fifth of all cancer cases in the UK. Overall, about a quarter (25%) of all cancer deaths are linked to smoking. These statistics make for stark reading, but rest assured there is plenty of help and support available for those out there who want to quit the habit. Treatments available include nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), certain stop smoking medications and electronic cigarettes. On the other hand, if a partner, family member or friend is a smoker, you need to be aware of the risks associated with passive or second hand smoke. Passive smoking has been linked to heart disease, respiratory illness and lung cancer.

2. Supplement your health

Multivitamin supplements can be taken at times of extra need: post illness, during pregnancy and in training. But some multivitamins may also reduce your risk of developing cancer. Fish oil, folic acid, flaxseed, ginger and green tea are some of the most commonly used supplements, however their benefit to cancer prevention has not yet been conclusively proven.

3. You are what you eat

30% of cancer is related to an unhealthy diet. Reduce your risk by eating balanced meals rich in fibre, fruit and vegetables and low in red, processed meats and salt. Too little fibre in your diet can cause constipation and even bowel cancer, while too much fat can cause obesity, high cholesterol and breast cancer. Too many carbohydrates risk insulin resistance and diabetes.  Try eating more fish instead of red and processed meat, avoid foods fried in oil and opt for wholemeal varieties of starchy foods whenever possible.

Read more about how to avoid skin cancer

4. Watch your weight 

Many types of cancer including breast cancer, bowel cancer, womb cancer, oesophageal cancer, pancreatic cancer, kidney cancer and gallbladder cancer are more common in people who are overweight or obese. A healthy weight not only decreases your risk of developing these cancers and more, but can also boost your self-esteem, maximise your fertility and libido, and reduce snoring, sleep apnoea and arthritis. Check if you are a healthy weight by calculating your body mass index (BMI) using a BMI chart.

5. Slap on the sunscreen

We all look forward to sunning ourselves in warmer climes; however overexposure to harmful UV rays causes irreparable damage to our skin cells, and increases our risk of skin cancer. You need to be especially careful if you have fair skin, have lots of moles (50 plus) or have a close relative who has had melanoma. The best advice is to avoid deliberately sunbathing altogether, however many of us may find this tip quite undesirable. Therefore the next best thing is to take sensible steps to protect yourself by regularly applying sunscreen with good UVA protection (with an SPF of at least 15), seeking shade during the hottest part of the day (11am – 3pm) and covering up with a hat, t-shirt and sunglasses. Sunbeds are also out of the question, like the sun they give out harmful UVA rays and are thought to be responsible for up to 100 melanoma deaths each year.          

6. Get out and get active                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

Being physically active doesn’t just benefit your overall health; research has shown that it also reduces your risk of developing bowel, womb and breast cancer. In fact according to Cancer Research UK, keeping active could help to prevent more than 3,000 cases of cancer every year in the UK. Around two and a half hours of moderate exercise every week also lowers cholesterol and blood pressure, prevents insomnia, normalises weight, reduces dementia risk, lifts depression, eases anxiety, prevents osteoporosis and boosts libido. What are you waiting for?

Click here to find out more about breast cancer

7. Be vigilant

No one knows our body better than ourselves, so we need to practice vigilance and keep a careful eye to ensure we notice any changes that occur. Abnormal bleeding is a change that could indicate something isn’t right, i.e., coughing blood could indicate lung cancer or throat cancer; blood in the urine could indicate kidney or bladder cancer; blood in your stools could indicate bowel or stomach cancer. Abnormal bruising could be a sign of leukaemia or other bone marrow cancer, while swollen glands could be a symptom of lymphoma or secondary stage cancer from elsewhere in the body. Other warning signs not to be ignored include mole changes (skin cancer), persistent headaches (brain tumour), difficulty swallowing (oesophageal cancer) and persistent hoarseness (throat cancer). Consult your GP if you notice any of the above or other abnormal changes within your body.

8. Practice prevention

When it comes to a potentially terminal illness like cancer, prevention really is the best cure. At risk groups should attend regular screenings which can spot the disease in its earliest stages, before you have any symptoms and when it is much easier to treat. The most common cancers which doctors usually screen for are breast cancer, cervical cancer, bowel cancer and prostate cancer. The NHS Breast Screening Programme currently provides free breast screening every three years for all women aged 50 and over. There is currently no organised screening programme for prostate cancer; however the NHS does operate Prostate Cancer Risk Management, which aims to provide men with all the information they need to decide whether the PSA test is suitable for them. For more information on NHS cancer screening, please visit:

9. Safe sex

Wearing a condom during sex not only cuts down your chances of unwanted pregnancy and STIs but can also reduce your risk of developing the HPV infection. Most cases of cervical cancer are linked to an infection with certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV), and women who start having sex earlier and have more sexual partners put themselves at a higher risk. However HPV can be present even by practicing safe sex, which is why it is important for women between the ages of 25 and 49 to attend cervical screening every three years, and for women between the ages of 50 and 64 to attend cervical screening every five years. Using condoms during sexual intercourse also prevents HIV infection. People infected with HIV have a substantially higher risk of some types of cancer compared with uninfected people of the same age.

10. Stop stressing

Many of us feel stressed at some point, whether this is through work or as a result of something going on in our personal lives. Although there is no evidence that cancer is a direct consequence of too much stress, stressful situations can result in some people taking up bad habits which can increase their risk of developing the disease such as eating a lot of unhealthy food, drinking too much alcohol or starting to smoke. Make sure you have a healthy work balance to reduce the amount of stress in your life. Small lifestyle changes such as a healthier diet, exercise and a good night’s sleep can increase your resistance to stress in both mind and body.

Learn more about how a healthy diet can slow cancer development

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