10 things you can do to prevent cancer

Get moving... Research shows it has a direct role in preventing some cancers like bowel, breast and womb cancer. PHOTO:

Get moving… Research shows it has a direct role in preventing some cancers like bowel, breast and womb cancer. PHOTO:

• As simple as ditching junk food, cutting out vitamin tablets, exercising • Breastfeeding for six months reduces mother’s, baby’s odds • Giving up processed meat protects gut from bowel cancer

DOING more exercise and drinking less alcohol sounds like advice from a nagging mother.

But experts say such lifestyle changes really can cut a person’s risk of cancer.

More than 84,000 cases of the disease could be prevented a year if Britons lost weight, took more exercise or cut back on drinking, experts claim.

They estimate that almost a third of the common types of cancer could be avoided by adopting a healthier lifestyle.

This includes 20,300 cases of breast cancer, 19,800 cases of bowel cancer, 2,200 cases of kidney cancer and 1,400 pancreatic cancer.

The World Cancer Research Fund, which carried out the analysis, said even ‘simple changes’ such as doing ten minutes exercise a day could make a difference.

Here, experts reveal the 10 simple things you can do to cut your risk of 13 types of cancer.


Being overweight increases the risk of 10 cancers including bowel, breast, liver and advanced prostate tumours.

Research shows a sixth of cancers – 24,000 cases a year in the United Kingdom (UK) – could be prevented if people were all a healthy weight, the World Cancer Research Fund says.

In fact, after not smoking, being a healthy weight is the most important thing a person can do to reduce their cancer risk.

Being a healthy weight can also help to reduce the risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.

It is believed staying slim prevents cancer because fat cells release hormones such as oestrogen which can increase the risk of cancers like breast cancer.

Studies have shown storing too much fat also encourages the body to produce “growth hormones”, which are linked to the disease.

And body fat also stimulates a general inflammatory response, similar to when a person’s body is fighting an infection, which may contribute to the development of several cancers.

Men and women who are a healthy weight have a Body Mass Index (BMI) between 18.5 and 24.9.

In order to stay a healthy weight, cut back on fatty and sugary foods, keep an eye on portion sizes and try to do more exercise, the charity advises.


It is well known being active is good for the heart and lungs – but it can also reduce your risk of cancer.

Research shows it has a direct role in preventing some cancers like bowel, breast and womb cancer.

Around one in nine bowel and breast cancers could be prevented if people were more physically active.

It is not fully understood how exercise reduces cancer risk, but studies show regular activity can help keep hormone levels healthy, and too-high levels of hormones are linked to cancer.

Exercise not only helps us look sculpted, but prevents us becoming fat, which also increases the risk of the disease.

Physical activity can also strengthen the immune system and help keep our digestive systems healthy.

Eating a plant-based diet, rich in vegetables, fruits, wholegrains and pulses can help keep cancer at bay, the charity said.

Vegetables and fruits probably reduce the risk of mouth and throat, oesophagus, stomach and lung cancer.

They also contain substances called phytochemicals, which can help to protect cells in body from damage that can lead to cancer.

Moreover, as they are low in calories they can help people maintain a healthy weight.

Fibre, found in wholegrains, bread and pasta also decreases the risk of bowel cancer.

Alcohol is linked mouth and throat, oesophagus, liver, bowel and breast cancer. Leading experts advise avoiding drinking alcohol as much as possible to help prevent cancer. They say men should aim for no more than two drinks and women should drink no more than one alcoholic drink a day.

People can reduce their alcohol intake by opting for a smaller-sized drinks (go for a single rather than a double), diluting the drink with water, opting for a low-alcohol alternative and keeping a few days a week alcohol-free, the charity advises.


Eating a lot of high-calorie food increases a person’s cancer risk because they are more likely to become overweight or obese if they eat a lot of them.

High calorie foods include chocolate, crisps, chips, biscuits, fast food (like burgers or fried chicken).

Fizzy drinks, energy drinks, squashes, milkshakes and frappes are also high in calories.

Natural fruit juice also contains a lot of sugar, so it’s best not to drink more than one glass a day, experts recommend.

It is a good idea to stick to water or unsweetened tea or coffee whenever you can, the charity said.

There is no strong evidence to link artificially sweetened drinks to cancer either, so diet drinks can be a good alternative too.


Salt may enhance the flavour of a meal, but it also raises the risk of high blood pressure and stomach cancer. Scientists believe it is linked to cancer because it damages the stomach’s lining. The body only needs a small amount of salt, which is a compound made up of sodium and chlorine.

Cooking from scratch should help eliminate extra salt added by food manufacturers, and eating fresh meats rather than salty processed meats like bacon, cured meats and some sausages.


Not only do processed meats contain a lot of salt, there is ‘strong’ evidence eating a lot of these foods increases the risk of bowel cancer.
One possible reason for this is that the compound that gives red meat its colour, haem, may damage the lining of the bowel.
Studies also show that people who eat a lot of red meat tend to eat fewer plant-based foods, so they benefit less from their cancer-protective properties.

The World Cancer Research Fund advises people to eat no more than 500g of cooked red meat like like beef, pork and lamb, and eating processed meats like ham, bacon and salami as little as possible.

This is because when meat is preserved by smoking, curing or salting, or by the addition of preservatives, cancer-causing substances can be formed. These substances can damage cells in the body, leading to the development of cancer.

Although eating a lot of red meat is linked to bowel cancer, it is a good source of nutrients including protein, iron and zinc, so it’s fine to include up to 500g a week as part of healthy, balanced diet.

Meat can be replaced with beans, chickpeas or lentils in many meals. And instead of bacon, chorizo or salami, people could try spicy chicken or vegetarian sausages, the charity says.


Most people take vitamin and mineral tablets with the best of intentions – but some high dose supplements can actually harm our health.

Most research on supplements has been done on specific groups of people and not on the general public so it is impossible to be able to accurately predict the benefits or risks of supplements for everyone.

While some supplements reduce the risk of cancer, others have been shown to raise it.

In light of this, the World Cancer Research Fund advises that, for most people, eating a healthy, balanced diet is a better way of reducing the risk of cancer than taking supplements.


Breastfeeding helps mothers lose any excess baby weight more quickly, reducing the risk of breast cancer. It lowers the levels of some cancer-related hormones in a mother’s body.

At the end of breastfeeding, a woman’s body gets rid of any cells in her breasts that may have DNA damage. These changes reduce the risk of breast cancer developing in the future.

For these reasons, mothers are advised to breastfeed their baby exclusively for six months. After that, the baby will benefit if you continue to breastfeed alongside introducing other foods.

Breast milk gives the baby the ‘best start’ as it contains all the nutrients it needs for healthy growth and development. It helps the baby build a strong immune system, meaning there is less chance they’ll have diarrhoea, constipation or chest and ear infections.

There is evidence that breastfed babies are also less likely to develop eczema.

Research also shows that breastfeeding helps babies to grow at a healthy rate. Breastfed babies are less likely to become overweight or obese later in life compared to babies fed on infant formula.

Scientists think this may be because breast milk can help establish our metabolism. This means that by breastfeeding you may be helping your baby maintain a healthy weight when they grow up.

Quitting smoking is the most important thing a person can do to reduce their risk of cancer, the World Cancer Research Fund said.

Smoking is the biggest cause of preventable deaths in England, accounting for more than 80,000 deaths each year. One in two smokers will die from a smoking-related disease.

It causes about 90 per cent of lung cancers.

Doctors believe smoking causes lung cancer by damaging the cells that line the lungs.

Cigarette smoke is full of cancer-causing chemicals which change the lung tissue almost immediately.

The body can repair the damage at first, but if a person continues to smoke, the lung cells become increasingly damaged – and beyond repair.

Over time, the damage causes cells to act abnormally, which may cause cancer tumours to develop.

It also causes cancer in many other parts of the body, including the: mouth, lips, throat, voicebox (larynx), oesophagus (the tube between the mouth and stomach), bladder, kidney, liver, stomach and pancreas.

• Courtesy of World Cancer Research Fund UK but published in DailyMailUK online

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