Around 4 in 10 cancers could be prevented by lifestyle changes. Making these changes doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get cancer, but they will make it less likely and will improve your general health.
Give up smoking
If you smoke, giving up is the single most important thing you can do for your health. About 1 in 5 cancers, and more than 1 in 4 cancer deaths, are linked to smoking. It increases the risk of many cancers, including cancers of the mouth, throat, lung, bladder, kidney, pancreas, bowel, stomach and cervix. Breathing in other people’s smoke (passive smoking) also increases your risk of developing cancer. If you are worried about passive smoking, talk to your doctor or practice nurse.
Keep to a healthy weight
More than half of adults are overweight. Being overweight increases the risk of several cancers, including cancers of the pancreas, bowel, womb and kidney. It can also increase the risk of breast cancer after the menopause. Being overweight can also lead to other health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure or diabetes. If you’re overweight, getting to a healthy weight is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of cancer. Your GP or practice nurse can talk to you about the ideal weight for your height. The best way to lose weight is by eating a healthy diet and being more physically active.
Eat a healthy diet
A healthy diet can reduce your risk of cancer, particularly bowel cancer. It can also lower your risk of other health problems, such as heart disease and diabetes. You should eat foods that are high in fibre, such as wholegrain bread and pasta, beans and oatmeal. Try to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables every day. Limiting how much salt, red meat and processed meat you eat is also important. Processed meats are meats that have had preservatives added to them, or that have been preserved by salting, curing or smoking. They include sausages, ham and burgers.
Keep physically active
Many studies have found that regular physical activity can reduce the risk of cancer. You should try to do at least two and a half hours of activity each week. This can be split into 10 to 30 minute sessions throughout the week. You can increase these times as you get used to exercising. You don’t have to go to the gym to be active. Regular walking, cycling or swimming can be enough. During any activity, you should feel you are breathing quicker but still able to talk. Your pulse should be slightly faster than normal. If you’re not used to doing exercise, your GP can advise you on getting started.
Limit how much alcohol you drink
Drinking alcohol, especially more than the recommended limits, can increase your cancer risk. About 4 in 100 cancers are linked to alcohol. Alcohol increases the risk of cancers of the mouth and throat. It is also linked to cancers of the bowel, liver and breast. In general, the more you drink, the higher your risk. NHS guidelines suggest that both men and women should: not regularly drink more than 14 units of alcohol in a week spread the alcohol units they drink in a week over three or more days try to have several alcohol-free days every week. A unit of alcohol is half a pint of ordinary strength beer, lager or cider, one small glass (125ml) of wine or a single measure (25ml) of spirits.
Take care in the sun
Spending some time outside in the sun helps you stay healthy. Our bodies use the UVB rays in sunlight to make vitamin D. This is important for bone health and reduces the risk of many illnesses, including cancer. But it’s also important to protect your skin from burning, as this can increase your risk of skin cancers. If you’re going to be out in the sun for longer than a few minutes, use a sun cream with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. You should wear loose, cotton clothes that cover your body, as well as a hat. Avoid using a sunbed or sunlamp. If you want to look tanned, use fake tanning lotions or sprays.