There are some cancer risk factors that you can’t change—like age, family history or previous medical history. But that doesn’t mean you can’t lower your cancer risk in other ways. One in three cancers can be prevented by living a healthy lifestyle.
Be smoke free
Smoking can cause 16 different types of cancer, and the longer you have smoked, the higher your risk. But it’s never too late to stop smoking, and we can help.
You don’t have to quit on your own. Using a service like Quitline almost doubles your chances of quitting successfully.
Quitline counsellors will listen to your story, help you to identify and manage your cravings, and enable you to take charge of quitting. It’s also your link to local quitting support.
You can call Quitline over the phone, or connect using webchat, where you can speak to counsellors―and there are Aboriginal counsellors available. It’s private, and completely confidential.
Call Quitline 13 7848 (13 QUIT) or visit www.quitlinesa.org.au for help quitting.
You can also talk to your doctor, pharmacist or Aboriginal Health Worker about quitting.
Be active every day
Being active can reduce your risk of bowel cancer and cancers relating to women’s business. But only 4 per cent of men and one per cent of women are doing enough the recommended amount of activity, which is an hour a day most days of the week.
Getting enough physical activity doesn’t have to be hard. You can break it down into blocks throughout the day, and find activities you really enjoy, like swimming, walking, playing tennis or even gardening. Take the stairs instead of the lift, or get off the bus a stop earlier.
Start increasing your activity slowly—you should aim to be slightly puffed out at the end—until you can comfortably do the recommended amount.
Eat a healthy diet
Eating a healthy diet is important for overall health, and the fibre in fruit, vegetables and whole grains can also help protect against some cancers—particularly cancers of the digestive system.
Every day, aim for:
Five serves of vegetables
A serve equals a cup of salad or raw vegetables or half a cup of cooked or canned vegetables.
Two serves of fruit
A serve equals one medium sized piece, like a banana or an orange, or two small pieces, like apricots.
25g of fibre for men, or 30g for women
Foods like wholegrain cereals and bread are naturally high in fibre which can lower risks of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
Limited amounts of red meat and processed meats
Try to only consume 3–4 serves of red meat per week, with a serve being the size of your palm. Stick to leaner cuts, avoid processed meats like bacon and sausages, and choose red meat replacements like fish, chicken or no meat at all.
Maintain a healthy weight
Being overweight or obese increases your risk of bowel, breast, endometrial, oesophageal, pancreatic and kidney cancer. It is estimated that 37 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 and over were obese in 2012–2013—1.6 times higher than the non-indigenous population.
Avoid or limit alcohol
Drinking alcohol increases the risk of lung, bowel, liver and head and neck cancers—all of which are within the 10 most commonly diagnosed cancers for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. And the more you drink, the higher your risk. You shouldn’t have more than two standard drinks per day, and aim to have at least a few alcohol free days every week.
Participate in cancer screening
Some cancers can be detected at an early stages, when treatment is most likely to be effective. This is done through screening, which detects early signs of cancer in otherwise healthy people who aren’t showing symptoms.
Learn more about screening for bowel cancer.
Learn more about screening for women's cancers.
Overexposure to UV radiation is the leading cause of skin cancer in Australia.
You can’t see it but it’s very harmful to your skin, and you’re exposed through being in the sun. The levels of UV change throughout the day. Whenever the UV is 3 or above, you need to protect your skin.
You can use the SunSmart app [link] to check UV levels in real time throughout the day in your area, so you know when to be SunSmart and Slip, Slop, Slap, Seek and Slide.
When the UV is 3 or above:
- Slip on loose-fitting, closely woven clothing that covers as much skin as possible
- Slop on SPF 30 or higher broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen and reapply every two hours
- Slap on a broad-brimmed, bucket or legionnaire hat that shades the face, neck and ears
- Seek dense shade
- Slide on wraparound sunglasses
UV damage is permanent and cumulative, so your skin remembers and adds up every time you’ve been in the sun. The more exposure you’ve had, including sunburn and tanning, the higher your risk of developing skin cancer. That’s why it’s important to be SunSmart every time you’re in the UV3+ weather.
Know your skin
As well as being SunSmart when the UV is 3 or above, you can get to know your skin so that you’re aware of any changes. You should check your whole body (not just the areas exposed to the sun) very carefully four times per year. If you notice any of the following, visit your GP and get checked:
- A new spot that wasn’t there before
- A sore that doesn’t heal, or a mole that starts to bleed
- A spot that is uneven, has an irregular border, is a different colour to other spots, or is larger than 6mm across.
- A spot that has changed in shape, colour or size