Is there a link between lifestyle and cancer risk?

We see information in the media nearly every day telling us about the next ‘superfood’ that will prevent us from getting cancer or telling us to exercise more. But how much truth is behind these claims and the effect our lifestyle can have on our risk of getting cancer?

Smoking alone is responsible for 90% of lung cancers so avoiding smoking or quitting it is the most important lifestyle choice you can take to reduce your risk of cancer. After that, about one third of the most common cancers in the UK could be prevented by eating a healthy diet, being physically active and maintaining a healthy weight. That is about 80,000 cases in the UK every year so there is definitely a link between your lifestyle and risk of developing cancer! (1)

Research shows a direct link between being overweight and obese and 11 different types of cancer including bowel and breast cancer. In England in 2015-2016, 62% of adults were overweight or obese. Fat cells encourage the body to produce growth hormones which can promote the growth of cancer cells, and they can produce hormones like oestrogen which increases the risk and promotes the growth of breast and womb cancer. They can also stimulate the body to have an inflammatory response which may also increase the risk of several cancers. Therefore, we should try to be as lean as possible and achieve a healthy weight to reduce our cancer risk. (2)

There is strong evidence that being physically active can reduce your risk of colon, breast and womb cancer. The World Cancer Research Fund, who provides up to date scientific research from around the world on lifestyle and cancer, reports that by being active for 30 minutes a day at least five times per week we could prevent one in eight cases of colon and breast cancer and one in ten cases of womb cancer in the UK. Exercise can help us to balance our hormone levels, lower our insulin resistance and maintain a healthy weight. Isn’t this a good enough reason to dust off your trainers and get yourself down to the park or gym?! (3)

Finally, what we eat can also affect our risk of developing cancer. There is good evidence that eating a healthy diet high in fibre and fruit and vegetables can reduce your risk, while eating processed and red meat or foods preserved with salt can increase your risk.

So in a nutshell, there is a lot of evidence that shows a link between our lifestyle choices and our risk of developing cancer. This booklet by the World Cancer Research Fund outlines ten lifestyle changes you can make to lower your cancer risk that you can start to implement today.

Small changes make a BIG difference so get out there and get started!

1. Cancer Research UK,
2. Health and Social Care Information Centre. Health Survey for England - 2015: Adult trend tables.
3. World Cancer Research Fund,

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