How can I reduce my risk of developing Cancer?

True North Wellness
There are a number of risk factors that elevate the likelihood of developing any type of cancer. Some of these we are not able to influence (meaning they are non-modifiable), however many are within our control (meaning they are modifiable). Having one of more risk factors does not mean you will definitely develop cancer; many people have at least one risk factor but will never get it, whilst others with cancer may have had no known risk factors. Nevertheless it is important to be aware of your personal risk factors and minimise them where possible.
Some non-modifiable risk factors include:
  • Age (risk increases as we get older)
  • Sex (depends on the type of cancer; e.g. breast cancer more common in women than men)
  • Genetics (family history increases the risk of developing)
  • Previous diagnosis of cancer
Some modifiable, or lifestyle related, risk factors include:
Low physical activity and sedentary behaviour
Low levels of physical activity can contribute to colon, breast and endometrial cancer. Sedentary behaviour, being prolonged periods of sitting or lying down, have been associated with colorectal, endometrial and lung cancers. Being physically inactive or sedentary also increases the likelihood of being overweight or obese, which is itself a risk factor for developing cancer. Despite this, data has indicated that 60% of Australians do not meet the physical activity guidelines.
Unhealthy diet
Foods containing dietary fibre, such as vegetables, fruits, legumes and cereals have been shown to have a protective effect against certain cancers. Increased consumption of red and processed meat has been found to increase risk of some types of cancer also. There is also evidence that salt in highly salty or processed foods is associated with stomach cancer. Consuming too many calories also increases the likelihood of being overweight or obese, which is itself a risk factor for developing cancer. High consumption of energy-dense sugary foods and drinks is contributing to this rise in body weight.
High levels of alcohol consumption
Regardless of the type of alcohol consumed, excessive consumption can cause many different types of cancers. This is because it can damage DNA in cells, and affect the liver’s ability to control hormone levels in your blood.
Tobacco consumption has been identified as the single largest cause of cancer in the world. Tobacco smoking as the single largest cause of lung cancer and can also cause a large number of other types.
Being overweight or obese
Higher levels of body fat increase the risk of various cancers; for some in particular, fat carried around the abdomen and waist is a greater risk than fat carried on the hips and thighs. Being overweight/obese is typically a influenced by a combination of the above lifestyle behaviours, particularly poor diet and low physical activity.
So, what can I do to reduce my risk?
Meet the physical activity guidelines and reduce sedentary behaviour
  • Accumulate 150 to 300 minutes per week of moderate intensity physical activity (around 30 minutes per day). This is any activity where you get a little bit of ‘puff’, but are still able to hold a conversation. Alternatively, this is equivalent to 75-150 minutes of more vigorous activity.
  • Limit time spent in prolonged sitting – aim to get up and move as often as possible.
Make positive dietary choices
  • Consume adequate non-starchy vegetables and fruit every day, eating mainly foods of plant origin.
  • Limit consumption of red and processed meat and salty and processed foods.
  • Limit consumption of energy-dense foods and avoid sugary drinks.
Limit alcohol intake
  • Guidelines state for healthy men and women, drinking no more than 2 standard drinks on any day reduces the lifetime risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury.
  • Do not ‘save’ your drinks using alcohol-free days only to consume them in one session.
  • Have at least two alcohol-free days every week.
Cease smoking
Maintain a healthy weight
  • If you know you are overweight, consider lifestyle methods of making positive dietary choices and increasing physical activity levels.
  • Remember popular weight loss diets generally don’t work in the long-term. It is better to make small changes to your diet and physical activity habits that you can maintain for a lifetime.


Tamika Hassum – Accredited Exercise Physiologist