What you can do to reduce your risk of cancer
Statistically, one in two of us may develop cancer in our lifetime. Although we won’t always be able to avoid it, Cancer Research UK says four in ten cancers are preventable. So, what can you do to reduce your risk?
1. Stop smoking
It may be easier said than done, but for smokers, quitting cigarettes is the best way to prevent cancer. Smoking causes three in 20 cancer cases and more than a quarter (28 per cent) of all cancer deaths in the UK. Stoptober – a month dedicated to quitting – is just around the corner. And you’ll find lots of great tips and resources here.
2. Keep to a healthy weight
Being overweight or obese causes around 22,800 cases of cancer each year in the UK. Obesity is the UK’s second biggest cause of cancer after smoking. Check your body mass index here to find out whether you are at risk. The NHS has a 12-week weight-loss plan, or for a surgical option, speak to Benenden Hospital about weight-loss surgery.
3. Eat healthily
How much you weigh is one part of the picture - what you eat can also have an impact on your risk of cancer too. Red meat (beef, pork, lamb, mutton and goat) in large and regular quantities, processed meat (ham, salami, sausages or bacon) and too few portions of fruit and veg can increase your risk of bowel and colorectal cancer. According to Cancer Research UK, 54% of bowel cancers are avoidable. Find out more about the symptoms and diagnosis of bowel cancer in our article.
4. Drink within healthy limits
Alcohol consumption causes around 3% of UK cancer cases per year. So how much is too much? According to Cancer Research UK, there is no safe limit for alcohol when it comes to cancer “but the risk is smaller for people who drink within government guidelines”. Cancer Research UK have found that drinking less alcohol lowers the risk for seven cancers - mouth, upper throat, larynx, oesophagus, breast, liver and bowel. Find out about government guidelines here.
5. Stay active
Most people know that exercise is good for the heart, but it also affects our likelihood of developing cancer. The NHS recommends 2 and a half hours of moderate exercise, such as brisk walking, cycling or swimming, to lower your risk of cancer and other conditions. In women, it can reduce oestrogen levels – “which can fuel the development of many breast and womb cancers”. Physical activity can also help keep our bowels regular, helping to reduce the time that any harmful substances (such as alcohol and processed meat) may remain in our system. And, of course, being fit helps keep you at a healthy weight.
6. Take care of your skin
Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light via the sun or a sunbed is a leading cause of skin cancer as the UV radiation can damage the DNA in your skin cells. Almost nine out of 10 skin cancers can be avoided through taking safety precautions in the sun, including judicious use of sunscreen, and never using a sunbed.
7. Avoid infections
The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common infection that usually causes no problems. However, persistent or high-risk variants can lead to cancer. Virtually all of the 3,100 cases of cervical cancer diagnosed in the UK each year are caused by HPV.
Going for regular smear tests will help pick up any changes to the cervix and, these days, teenage girls are offered an anti-HPV vaccine at school, which reduces the risk of infection. Men who have sex with other men can request the vaccination via sexual health clinics (as they have a higher risk of anal cancer as a result of infection).
HPV isn’t the only infection that carries a risk of cancer. Two types of hepatitis viruses (hepatitis B and hepatitis C) can cause cancer. They’re spread through blood-to-blood contact, for example, through sharing unsterilised needles, razors or toothbrushes, or through unprotected sex. To lower your risk, use a condom during sex and take precautions to avoid sharing risky items. Also, avoid getting piercings or tattoos done in a place that is unhygienic. There is a vaccination against hepatitis B for those at high risk or if you’re travelling to a country where it is common.
If you have any concerns, remember that as a Benenden Health Member you can access a GP at any time, seven days a week, by calling 0800 414 8247 to make an appointment.