One in three cancer cases could be avoided – here's how

Around 37,000 cancer cases could be prevented in Australia each year according to the first ever study of cancer incidence and preventable causes in Australia.

The study, funded by Cancer Council Australia and conducted by QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, showed that one in three cancers in Australia could be prevented.

Cancer Council Australia CEO, Professor Sanchia Aranda, said the ground-breaking research should encourage Australians to be positive about reducing their risk.

“Of 13 identified risk factors, smoking, UV radiation, body weight, poor diet and alcohol caused around 90 per cent of all preventable cancers,” Professor Aranda said. “It’s time to bust the myth that everything gives you cancer and do more to reduce the risks that we know cause cancer.

“The association with smoking is well-known, but the study shows that 7000 new cancer cases a year are also attributable to low fruit and vegetable intake, low fibre intake and eating excess red meat. Eating more fruit, vegetables and wholegrains is a positive step we can take to reduce our risk. These healthier choices also reduce obesity, the cause of 3900 cancer cases in its own right, and balance overconsumption of red and processed meat, which account for a further 2600 cases.

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Key findings

  • A total of 32% of all cancers diagnosed in Australia (excluding non-melanoma cancers) were attributed to the 13 cancer risk factors assessed.
  • This translates to up to 37,000 cancers (or one third of all cancers) being preventable each year in Australia
  • 33% of cancers in men and 31% in women are estimated to be preventable.
  • 9 in 10 preventable cancers are caused by just six risk factors: smoking, UV radiation, poor diet, overweight, physical inactivity and alcohol.

Professor Aranda said that people should not worry about fad diets and instead rely on the solid evidence that a diet rich in vegetables, fruit and whole grains, with other foods consumed in moderation, will cut your cancer risk.

“In addition to lifestyle risk factors, we analysed the impact of hepatitis B and C, human papillomavirus, HIV and Epstein Barr virus,” Professor Whiteman said. “Hopefully the study will help guide lifestyle change and health policy in Australia, and contribute to the international evidence on cancer prevention.”

Professor Aranda said the findings showed the importance of research and evidence to inform public policy and individual choice. “This is the most comprehensive study of its kind ever published in Australia and it provides clear guidance on cutting your cancer risk. It should help motivate all Australians to take simple steps towards a healthier lifestyle”.

Tell us, what have you changed to reduce your cancer risk?