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A world of difference – healthy lifestyles can prevent one-third of cancers

No smoking, less alcohol and red meat, more exercise, fruit, vegetables, and sun protection – simple lifestyle adjustments can have a positive impact in reducing cancer risk.

Cancer Australia CEO, Dr Helen Zorbas, said more than one third of cancers can be prevented by adopting healthy behaviours – a key message for World Cancer Day on 4 February 2018.

“Around the world, people are exposed to cancer risk through factors such as smoking, poor diet, and sedentary lifestyles,” Dr Zorbas said.

“Cancer is the leading cause of burden of disease in Australia, which is measured through the impact of premature death and living with illness and injury, and World Cancer Day is a good opportunity to emphasise the links between healthy lifestyle choices and reducing cancer risk.

“Cancer Australia’s National Cancer Control Indicators website provides a reliable source for tracking population-level lifestyle behaviours and the incidence, mortality and survival rates for cancers known to be caused by preventable factors such as smoking, alcohol, weight and diet.

“In Australia, the proportion of adults who smoke daily has steadily decreased from 22 per cent in 2001 to under 15 per cent in 2014-15, which is lower than comparable countries such as Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. 

“However, smoking still directly contributes to more than 13 per cent of all cancers in Australia, including cervical, bowel, stomach, pancreas and lung cancers, and causes almost a quarter of all cancer deaths. While quitting smoking can be a challenge for people, it is vital in reducing cancer risk.

“Australians’ overall alcohol consumption has fallen markedly since it peaked in the early 1970s, but it is still high when compared to other OECD countries. In 2013, alcohol contributed to almost 3,500 cancers in Australia5, including breast, oesophageal and liver cancers.

“Around 1 in 20 cancers in Australia are associated with overweight or obesity, yet, critically, 28 per cent of our adult population is classified as obese, which compares poorly with many other OECD nations,” Dr Zorbas said.

“Also of concern, in 2014/15, fewer than 1 in 10 adult Australians met the recommended vegetable intake and only around half of all adults consumed enough fruit. We also ate more red and processed meats than health guidelines recommend.

“If we can improve our lifestyle decisions against these critical cancer prevention indicators, we can help to reduce the burden of cancer in our community,” Dr Zorbas said.