Cancer is the second biggest cause of death in Australia.
In 2014, cancer accounted for approximately 3 out of every 10 deaths in Australia (AIHW, 2017). Each year around 48,000 people die from cancer in Australia, that’s about 131 deaths every day.
And most health authorities say that most cancer deaths are preventable. Scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health estimate that up to 75% of cancer deaths in America can be prevented. The World Health Organisation estimate that 30-50% of cancers can be prevented.
In the last few months two of my family members have been diagnosed with cancer. My Aunt was diagnosed with uterine cancer and my mum with a tumour on her kidney, and cancer in her lungs. Before now I hadn’t thought much about cancer or how to prevent it.
Seeing my mum go through surgery and treatment makes me realise how awful cancer is. I don’t want to see other people have to go through this.
I’d love to see people more people taking the effort to prevent getting cancer in the first place. I don’t know if my mum could have prevented her cancer or not, but I want to do everything I can to prevent myself and the rest of my family from getting it, and help educate others so they can prevent it too.
Many cancers are preventable
The World Cancer Research Fund state that there’s a clear link between lifestyle and chronic disease, so behaviour change is key in preventing and controlling chronic diseases such as cancer.
A report from Harvard Medical School found that the three biggest risk factors for cancer are smoking, obesity and diet. Smoking was estimated to have caused 30% of cancers. Obesity and diet combined were estimated to have caused another 30% of all cancers. A high-risk diet was found to be one high in red meat and fat and low in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Other risk factors included lack of exercise, viruses (hepatitis, HPV, HIV) and alcohol.
Cancer Prevention Strategies
The World Cancer Research Fund outlines ten things you can do to significantly reduce your risk of cancer. These prevention steps aren’t just a guess at how you can reduce your risk. They are from the world’s largest, most authoritative and up-to-date source of scientific research on cancer prevention.
Where do these recommendations come from?
The World Cancer Research Fund has a research program where they continually collate scientific research from around the world. They have a database of 9037 research publications relating to 17 different cancers. These publications provide evidence on how diet, physical activity and weight affect cancer risk and survival. An independent panel of world-renowned experts evaluate and interpret this evidence. Their conclusions are then used to revise and update the cancer prevention recommendations.
So basically, the most experienced doctors and cancer experts look at the best and latest research to find out how diet and lifestyle impact cancer. They then use that information to make recommendations about how people can avoid cancer. So this is definitely worth taking note of and applying to our lives.
Ten ways to prevent cancer
1. Have a normal body weight
- Keep your body weight within the ‘normal’ range (BMI under 25). Click here to calculate your BMI
- Avoid weight gain and increases in waist circumference throughout adulthood
2. Be physically Active
- Be physically active (equivalent of brisk walking) for 30 minutes every day
- As fitness improves, aim for 60 minutes or more of moderate, or for 30 minutes or more of vigorous, physical activity every day
- Sit less
3. Avoid high calorie foods and drinks
- Consume energy dense foods sparingly*
- Avoid sugary drinks
- Consume fast food sparingly (if at all)
*These are foods with an energy content of more than 225-275 calories per 100g. Examples of calorie dense foods include vegetable oils, cheese, cookies, sugar, crackers, butter, bacon, fries, potato chips, pastries, cakes, nut butters, doughnuts, dried fruit.
4. Eat more plant foods
- Eat at least five serves (at least 400 g or 14 oz) of a variety of non-starchy vegetables and or fruits every day
- Eat relatively unprocessed cereals (whole grains) and/or pulses (legumes) with every meal
- Limit refined carbohydrates (e.g. white flour products, refined sugar)
5. Limit red meat and avoid processed meat
- Consume less than 500 g (18 oz) a week of red meat (pork, beef, lamb), very little if any to be processed. (‘Processed meat’ refers to meat preserved by smoking, curing or salting, or addition of chemical preservatives).
6. Avoid Alcohol
- For cancer prevention, it’s best not to drink alcohol. If you do, limit alcoholic drinks and follow national guidelines.
7. Eat less salt and avoid mouldy grains & cereals
- Avoid salt-preserved, salted, or salty foods; preserve foods without using salt (eg freeze, refrigerate, can, dry your food instead)
- Limit consumption of processed foods with added salt to ensure an intake of less than 6g (2.4g sodium) a day*
- Do not eat mouldy cereals (grains) or pulses (legumes, peanuts).
*Processed foods with added salt are foods such as potato chips, crackers, processed meats, pre-prepared packaged meals, cheese.
8. Don’t rely on supplements
- Dietary supplements are not recommended for cancer prevention
9. If you can, breastfeed your baby for six months
- Aim to breastfeed infants exclusively up to six months and continue with complementary feeding thereafter
Breastfeeding protects both the mother and the child.
10. After cancer treatment, the best advice is to follow the Cancer Prevention Recommendations
- If able to do so, aim to follow the recommendations for diet, healthy weight, and physical activity.
So here is my summary of how to prevent cancer:
Move more and sit less, be a ‘normal’ weight, eat mostly whole plant foods, don’t eat junk food, don’t drink alcohol.
This is basically a prescription for a healthy life. Not only will this significantly reduce your risk of cancer, but other chronic diseases as well. It will also help you to feel great, have lots of energy and help you sleep better.
Cancer and chronic disease are largely preventable and in some cases reversable.
I know that the food that I choose to eat and every day has a big impact in my health. The choices I make now effect how long my children and I live and whether we’ll get chronic lifestyle diseases.
I’m choosing to eat a plant based diet, avoid processed and refined foods and avoid alcohol and cigarettes.
I’d love to see more people doing the same!
World Health Organisation: http://www.who.int/cancer/prevention/en/
World Cancer Research Fund: http://www.wcrf.org/int/research-we-fund/our-cancer-prevention-recommendations
“Harvard Report on Cancer Prevention, Vol. I: Causes of Human Cancer” (1996), Vol. 7, pp. 53–55.
Harvard Health. 2009. The ten commandments of Cancer prevention. https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/The-10-commandments-of-cancer-prevention
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Cancer in Australia 2017. 2017. https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/cancer/cancer-in-australia-2017/contents/table-of-contents