Cancer Prevention

A lot of cancer is preventable, according to a panel of experts working for the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) from nine universities in four countries, in a report called Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer.

Lifestyle has a lot to do with our developing cancer; few cancers are actually inherited. Modifying our lifestyle will reduce our chances of cancer by up to a third. Getting people to adopt all of the lifestyle measures is never easy, but it beats palliative care.

The list of avoiding cancer measures is really a list of how to stay healthy. The research is compelling. The preventative measures are cheap and easy – and encourage greater enjoyment of life.

  • Keep your alcohol intake to not more than 3 drinks a day. A high alcohol intake increases the risk of bladder and oesophagus cancer.
  • Keep your weight down. Your Body Mass Index (BMI) shouldn’t be more than 25.
  • Don’t smoke. Even passive smoking causes many cancers.
  • Fruit and vegetables protect against some cancers. Australian recommendations are five serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit daily. Most people eat about three portions a day.
  • Cut down on fat, salt, and added sugar.
  • Red meat is convincingly linked to colorectal cancer. Limit red meat to 300 grams per week. Cutting down meat intake is also good for the environment – meat production uses large amounts of agricultural land and water. (Meat is a terrific source of protein though so there is a role for it, but it should be limited.
  • Sulfites and other additives in processed meats are associated with stomach and colorectal cancers. Cut out bacon, sausages, pate and salami as much as possible.
  • Eat less, and mostly foods of plant origin. Legumes such as beans, peas and lentils are good protein substitutes.
  • Exercise for as least 30 minutes a day. Being fit seems to have an anti-cancer effect in itself.
  • Avoid sunburn (it can cause skin cancers).
  • Mothers should breastfeed babies for six months: breastfeeding protects women against breast and other cancers, not to mention the enormous benefit for babies.


Be screened for the cancers that run in the family. Common hereditary cancers are breast, bowel, stomach, ovarian, prostate, and uterine cancers.

In Australia, health authorities recommend screening for the following cancers:

  • Breast. Women aged 50 to 69 need to have a mammogram every two years.
  • Bowel. Anyone over the age of 50 needs to have a faecal occult blood (FOB) test at least every two years. People who have one or more relatives with bowel cancer need to have a colonoscopy every five years after the age of 50.
  • Cervical. Sexually active women over 18 need to have a pap smear every two years up until the age of 70.
  • Prostate. The prostate specific antigen (PSA) test is available – if it’s elevated it may or may not indicate prostate cancer. Some authorities recommend it as an initial screening test in men, to be followed by other tests if it's raised.


The danger signs and symptoms commonly associated with cancer are; a lump; unusual bleeding, unexplained weight loss, prolonged loss of appetite; change of urinary or bowel habits; persistent cough; skin moles that change their colour or bleed; and severe headache. These symptoms do commonly occur in conditions other than cancer, so don’t be too alarmed if you have one or more of them. But if any of them are unexplained and persistent, see your doctor. In the meantime, eat, exercise and live well.