Can cancer be prevented?

There are many reasons why normal cells may turn to cancer cells and some of these reasons you can do nothing about.  However, evidence suggests that around 40% of cancers can be prevented simply by making healthy life style choices. 

The European Code Against Cancer gives information on how certain cancers may be avoided and general health improved if you adopt a healthier lifestyle.

The following changes may help to reduce your risk of getting cancer:

1.  Do not smoke or use tobacco in any form

Tobacco definitely causes cancer. Smoking (especially cigarettes) is a well-known cause of lung cancer. Smoke can also get into other body organs; there is a link between smoking and cancer of the mouth, larynx (voice box), pharynx, oesophagus (gullet), stomach, bladder, kidney, pancreas, liver and cervix.

Chewing tobacco and using snuff are also dangerous. They can cause cancers of the mouth and face.

2.  Eat healthily

People who eat a lot of fat and meat – especially red meat – seem more likely to get certain cancers (such as bowel cancer), so cutting down on these foods makes good sense. Eating more fruit and vegetables seems to protect against cancer.

Current recommendations are that everyone should eat at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables each day, to reduce the risks of cancer and coronary heart disease and many other chronic diseases.

The Food Standards Agency has a website with information about healthy eating.

The World Cancer Research Fund website also has information about how diet and lifestyle choices affect your cancer risk.

The Enjoy Healthy Eating website contains lots of information about healthy eating, including simple recipe ideas.

3.  Maintain a healthy body weight and keep active

Being very underweight or overweight increases your cancer risk. A sensible diet and some exercise will help to keep you at the right weight. 

For information on how to get active click here.   

4.  Don’t drink too much alcohol

Some types of cancer are more common in heavy drinkers. These include cancers of the liver, throat, oesophagus (gullet) and mouth. People who smoke and drink a lot are even more at risk.

For more information about your safe daily drinking limit visit www.knowyourlimits.info.

5.  Protect yourself in the sun

Most skin cancers are caused by being out in the sun too much or using sunbeds. You can protect yourself by using a high factor suncream, by covering yourself up when the sun is at its strongest (between 12-2pm) and by not using sun beds.

For more information about care in the sun click here.

6.  Take care at work

If you are exposed to certain substances or chemicals (for example asbestos, benzidene, arsenic) you are more likely to get cancer. Protect yourself by following all the health and safety rules.

7.  Get to know your body, and watch out for changes

The sooner a cancer is found, the better the chance of a cure.  It is important that you get to know your body and, if you notice any changes, see your GP.  For example, you can examine your breasts regularly for lumps or thickening, and for puckering skin and other changes. Men can check their testicles for lumps. Changes like these may be early signs of cancer.

For more information about the early signs and symptoms of cancer click here.

For information about how to examine your breasts click here.

For information about how to examine your testicles click here.

8.  Take part in prevention and screening programmes

Screening tests help to find cancer early.  The early cancer is detected the better the survival.  Nothern Ireland currently has screening programmes for breast and cervical cancer.  A bowel cancer screening programme is planned to begin in December 2009.

To find out more about cancer screening programmes in Northern Ireland click here.

The HPV vaccine also offers protection against cervical cancer .  The vaccine became available to girls in Northern Ireland in 2008.  A catch up programme is currently offering the vaccine for girls aged up to 18 years.  It will be routinely offered to 12 and 13 year old girls through schools from now onwards.  For more information about the HPV vaccine click here.