Thanks to research, we know more about cancer now than ever before, however, 1 in 2 people in the UK born after 1960 will be diagnosed with some form of cancer during their lifetime. Did you know that one third of cancers could be prevented and another third can be cured if detected early and treated properly?
What are the risk factors?
Everyone has a certain risk of developing cancer; a combination of genes, lifestyle and environment can affect this risk. Doctors do not know the exact causes of cancer but there are risk factors that can increase your chance of developing it.
Having one or more risk factors does not mean you will get cancer; and having no risk factors does not mean you will not develop cancer.
Around 1 in 3 cases of the most common cancers (about 33%) could be prevented by eating a healthy diet, keeping to a healthy weight and being more active. There are some things you can do to lower your risk of developing cancer, but you cannot reduce your risk completely through your lifestyle.
For most people, increasing age is the biggest risk factor for developing cancer. In general, people over 65 have the greatest risk of developing cancer and people under 50 have a much lower risk.
Cancer is very common and most of us have relatives who have had cancer. People often worry that a history of cancer in their family greatly increases their risk of developing it but fewer than 1 in 10 cancers are associated with a strong family history of cancer. If you are worried, you should talk to your GP.
Lifestyle risk factors and reducing your risk
Although we can’t make sure we don’t develop cancer, living a healthy life can make it less likely.
Giving up smoking
In the UK, more than 1 in 4 cancer deaths (over 25%) are caused by smoking.
Breathing in other people’s smoke also increases your risk of developing cancer.
Keep your home smoke-free to protect you and your family’s health. If you smoke, giving up is one of the most important things you can do for your health.
If you want to give up smoking, it is never too late to stop. Ask your GP for advice, or contact the NHS Yorkshire Smokefree Service.
Keeping to a healthy weight
Being overweight increases the risk of many types of cancer, including cancers of the bowel, kidney, womb and gullet (oesophagus). Women who are overweight and have been through the menopause also have a higher risk of breast cancer but keeping to a healthy body weight reduces your risk of cancer and other health problems, such as heart disease and diabetes.
If you are worried about your weight or need more information, talk to your GP or visit the NHS Healthy Weight website.
Eating a balanced diet
There is no single food that causes or prevents cancer. Eating a balanced diet is good for your overall health and helps reduce your risk of some cancers and it can also help you to keep to a healthy weight.
Eating plenty of high fibre foods helps reduce the risk of bowel cancer. Red meats such as beef, pork, lamb and veal and processed meats such as sausages, bacon, salami, tinned meats, and packet meats like sandwich ham, are linked to a higher risk of bowel and prostate cancer, so try to limit how much of these you eat.
Being physically active
Many studies have found that regular physical activity of at least 30 minutes every day can reduce the risk of cancer.
Your cancer risk is reduced further if you do more than 30 minutes a day of vigorous exercise. The NHS has more information on how to stay active.
Limiting how much alcohol you drink
Drinking alcohol increases your risk of mouth and throat cancers but it is also linked to other cancers. In general, the more you drink, the higher your risk. Your risk is even higher if you also smoke. You should try to stick to the current guidelines on drinking alcohol.
Taking care when the sun’s out
Our bodies need sunlight to make vitamin D so spending some time outside in the sun helps you stay healthy, however, it is important to protect your skin from burning, as this can increase your risk of skin cancers.
If you are going to be out in the sun for longer than a few minutes, you should protect your skin:
- Keep your arms and legs covered by wearing long-sleeved tops and trousers. Wear a wide-brimmed hat to protect your face and neck.
- Use suncream with a high sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. Choose one that protects against UVA and UVB, with a four or five star rating.
- Make sure you use enough sun cream. Experts say you need at least six to eight teaspoons of lotion for an average-sized adult to give the SPF coverage it says on the bottle.
- Stay out of the sun during the hottest part of the day which is usually between 11am and 3pm.
Using sunbeds or sun lamps also increases your risk of skin cancer.
In the UK we have three national screening programmes
Screening can help doctors find cancer early before symptoms happen and may be easier to treat and it can also pick up any potential abnormalities that may lead to cancer.
Breast cancer screening – open for all women from the ages of 50-70 for screening every three years.
Bowel cancer screening – open in England for all people aged between 60-74, in which a testing kit is sent every two years.
Cervical cancer screening – open for people with a cervix between the ages of 25- 64. You will get an invite every 3 years.
Talk to your GP
If something doesn’t look or feel quite right, or you think you might have cancer it’s always best to speak to the GP, you won’t be wasting their time. It’s always best to speak to your GP if something is unusual for you or doesn’t go away.
Lots of helpful information and advice are available from:
Macmillan Cancer Support
Cancer Research UK