A person’s risk of developing cancer depends on a combination of gene inheritance, the environment and their lifestyle. There is not a formula to prevent cancer but a person’s risk can be reduced by maintaining a healthy lifestyle. It is estimated that 4 out of 10 cases of cancer could be prevented by lifestyle changes:
Smoking is responsible for 1 in 4 cancer deaths and nearly a fifth of all cancer cases in the United Kingdom. It is the largest preventable cause of cancer. Stop Smoking Wales are a people-centred organisation that engages smokers to help them quit. Their website contains lots of great information.
Excess alcohol consumption increases the risk of certain cancers. Brief intervention has been shown to be successful within primary care. There is a e-learning module on the RCGP website.
Obesity and an unhealthy diet has been linked to various cancers and in Wales 58% of the population is overweight or obese. Talking to people about their risks and providing advice on healthy diets and exercise has proven benefits. The Welsh Government launched the Change4Life programme in 2010 which runs annual campaigns focused on addressing smoking, alcohol consumption, obesity, healthy eating and physical activity.
Overexposure to sunlight can increase risks of cancer and so sensible protection should be sought. Occupational hazards should be identified and avoided.
Human papilloma virus can cause cervical cancer and all girls aged between 12 and 13 are offered a vaccination as part of the National Health Service childhood vaccination programme. This is given as two injections spaced 6 months but not more than 24 months apart, and research predicts that this will reduce the incidence of the disease by 60% over 20 years. Uptake of the vaccine is over 80%.
Physical exercise has been shown to lower the incidence of many cancers. The Motivate to Move website details the evidence.