Cancer cases are on the rise, thanks in part to an ageing population, with age being the biggest risk factor. But alarmingly, lifestyle choices like drinking, smoking and tanning are contributing to around 400 preventable cancers every day in the UK, according to new figures from the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF).
It estimates that around 155,000 cancer cases could be prevented every year simply by people adopting different lifestyles. So, what does that look like?
Despite cases of lung cancer decreasing in the UK, as more and more people give up smoking, it remains the third most common cancer, accounting for 20% of cancer deaths. And with smoking causing at least 15 different types of cancer, quitting is a no-brainer. It’s one of the single biggest things you can do to reduce your cancer risk. There are lots of treatment and support options available to help you succeed.
Limit sun exposure
Too many UV rays from the sun or sunbeds can damage the DNA in our skin cells leading to skin cancer. In the UK, almost nine in ten cases of melanoma could be avoided by staying safe in the sun, using sunscreen with at least SPF15 and 4 stars and covering up or seeking shade when the sun is at its strongest. Sunbeds should also be avoided. Whilst it’s true that we do need some vitamin D from the sun, we don’t need to sunbathe to get this.
Reduce alcohol consumption
Alcohol causes at least seven types of cancer, including breast, mouth and bowel cancers. Reducing the amount you drink lowers your risk of developing cancer. To reduce the amount of alcohol you consume, make sure to have alcohol-free days during the week, keep a track of what and how much you are drinking, alternate alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic or use smaller glasses. And avoid topping up, wait instead for an empty glass. The NHS recommends we drink no more than 14 units a week, but the less you drink, the better.
Eat healthily and maintain a healthy weight
Maintaining a healthy weight can help protect against 12 different types of cancer. You could do this by eating a balanced diet, which includes wholegrains, vegetables, fruit and beans. Aim to get your 5-a-day - making fruit and vegetables the building blocks of your diet. Limit high calorie food, sugary drinks and red meat. Think about reducing portion sizes and making healthier choices by reading food labels.
Be more active
Our sedentary lifestyles are doing us no favours when it comes to our health. Try to limit how much time you spend sitting at your computer or watching television and instead try to incorporate physical activity into your everyday life. Walk whenever you can, get off the bus a stop earlier, cycle or walk to work, take up a new hobby such as running, cycling, swimming, a new sport or fitness class and invite friends to join you. The key is to make it fun, so it’s easy to stick to.
Margarida Rodrigues, Cancer Nurse Specialist at Reframe says, “Our life choices regarding what we eat; how we sleep, work, manage emotions, stress, and relationships; and how we face life’s challenges, have a profound effect on our health and wellness. And, particularly, in cancer prevention. Limiting consumption of the things that are harmful for our health (such as tobacco, sugar, alcohol, etc) is a starting point, however these life choices should be done conscientiously in order not to fall back into ‘old habits’.”
When it comes to cancer, there’s plenty of easy steps we can all take to cut our risk. It’s never too late to start living a healthier life. It’s also important to remember that early screening and diagnosis play a vital role in cancer outcomes. So, know your body and get any worrying symptoms checked out as soon as possible.