Reduce your Cancer Risk

Choose a healthy lifestyle

It makes good sense to choose a healthy lifestyle. Not only will it help reduce your risk of cancer, you’ll also have more energy and feel better about yourself. You will also cut your risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity. To reduce your risk of cancer:

  • check for unusual changes and have screening tests
  • don’t smoke and avoid second-hand tobacco smoke
  • be SunSmart when UV levels reach 3 and above
  • be physically active
  • maintain a healthy weight
  • avoid or limit alcohol
  • eat a healthy diet

Watch for changes that could indicate cancer

Finding cancer early offers one of the best chances to cure the disease. See your doctor if you notice anything unusual or have any concerns. Look out for:

  • lumps or sores that don’t heal
  • coughs or hoarseness that won’t go away
  • unexplained weight loss
  • a mole or skin spot that changes shape, size or colour or bleeds
  • changes in your toilet habits or blood in a bowel motion
  • unusual changes in your breasts
  • unusual vaginal discharge or bleeding
  • persistent indigestion or difficulty swallowing

These signs don’t necessarily mean you have cancer, but it’s important to have them checked out.

People who have a family history of cancer, should talk to their doctor about their risk.

Take part in screening

Screening is a great way of detecting some cancers early and is recommended where there is a proven benefit:

  • Women aged 50–74 are encouraged to have a screening mammogram (breast x-ray) every two years to check for breast cancer. To make an appointment for this free test call BreastScreen on 13 20 50.
  • Women aged 25-74 are encouraged to have a Cervical Screening Test every five years to detect early changes that, if left undetected and untreated, can lead to cervical cancer.
  • Men and women over 50 are encouraged to have a faecal occult blood test (FOBT) to check for bowel cancer every two years. People eligible for the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program are encouraged to take part. For more information visit

Men who are concerned about prostate cancer should speak to their doctor to help them decide whether taking the test is right for them. For more information call Cancer Council 13 11 20.


The HPV vaccine helps prevent genital HPV-related cancers. Boys and girls aged 12-13 are offered the vaccine for free as part of the National HPV Vaccination Program. Girls who have the vaccine will still need regular cervical screening tests when they’re older to reduce their risk of cervical cancer. Visit for more information.

Don’t smoke

About one in five deaths from cancer are due to smoking. More than 16,600 Australians are diagnosed with a smoking-related cancer each year.

The good news is that it’s never too late to quit smoking and the sooner you stop, the more you cut your risk of cancer. It is also important to avoid second hand tobacco smoke. Even if you don’t smoke, breathing in other people’s cigarette smoke can increase your risk of cancer.


  • Call the Quitline on 13 7848 and ask to have a free Quit pack mailed to you. A trained Quitline advisor can also help you with practical and expert advice. Or order one from this website.
  • Visit our Quitting Smoking page for advice and information on quitting.
  • Think of yourself as a non-smoker.

Be SunSmart

The major cause of skin cancer is over-exposure to UV radiation from the sun and other sources, such as solariums. Skin can burn in as little as ten to fifteen minutes in the sun on a typical January day in summer. The longer your unprotected skin is in the sun, the greater your risk of getting skin cancer.

It is important to balance the risk of skin cancer with maintaining adequate vitamin D levels. In the ACT area from August to May, most people only need a few minutes of sun each day to get enough vitamin D (outside peak UV hours).

Take the following five steps to protect against sun damage when the SunSmart UV Alert indicates the UV Index is at 3 or above*:

  1. Slip on some sun-protective clothing – that covers as much skin as possible.
  2. Slop on SPF30 or higher sunscreen – make sure it is broad spectrum and water resistant. Put it on 15-20 minutes before you go outdoors and every two hours afterwards. Sunscreen should never be used to extend the time you spend in the sun.
  3. Slap on a hat – that protects your face, head, neck and ears (not a cap).
  4. Seek shade.
  5. Slide on some sunglasses – make sure they meet Australian Standards 1067.

And remember, extra care should be taken between 10am and 3pm when UV Index levels reach their peak.


  • Look for the forecast UV Levels in your favourite weather forecast or download the free SunSmart App.
  • Know your skin, check all of your skin not just the sun exposed areas and see a doctor if you have any concerns.
  • See your doctor if you have a sore that doesn’t heal, a mole that has suddenly appeared or started to bleed, or one that has changed its size, thickness, shape or colour.

Be physically active

Keeping fit and active has many health benefits and regular physical activity has been shown to reduce the risk of bowel cancer, postmenopausal breast cancer and uterine cancer.

One hour of moderate activity or 30 minutes of vigorous activity on most days of the week is recommended for general health and fitness and to cut your cancer risk.

Moderate activities include brisk walking and medium-paced swimming, mowing the lawn or cycling. Vigorous activity includes active sports like football, tennis and basketball and activities such as aerobics, dancing, jogging and fast cycling.


  • Be active every day, in as many ways as you can. See activity as an opportunity.
  • Walk instead of driving to the shops, and walk in your lunchbreaks.
  • Walk or cycle to work and walk up stairs instead of catching the lift or escalator.
  • Do something you enjoy or can do with a friend, like tennis, swimming or dancing.
  • If you sit down a lot at work, take regular breaks to move around as much as possible throughout the day. Consider a standing or walking meeting.

Maintain a healthy weight

About one third of Australia’s cancer deaths are related to unhealthy lifestyles including poor eating and exercise habits. A waistline of around 94cm for men, and 80cm for women increases the risk for some types of cancer, including bowel, breast and oesophagus cancers.

Maintaining a healthy weight is about getting the balance right between what you eat and how physically active you are.


  • Avoid sugary drinks.
  • Limit junk food.
  • Limit or avoid alcoholic drinks as they are high in calories.
  • Eat more vegetables and fruit.
  • Be active every day.

Avoid or limit alcohol

Drinking alcohol, even in moderate amounts, increases the risk of cancers of the mouth, throat, oesophagus, liver, stomach, breast and bowel.

To reduce your risk of cancer, limit your intake of alcohol or, better still, avoid it altogether.

If you do choose to drink alcohol  follow the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) guidelines, below.

To reduce the risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury, healthy men and women should drink no more than 10 standard drinks a week and no more than 4 standard drinks on any one day. The less you drink, the lower your risk of
harm from alcohol.

A standard drink is roughly equal to:

  • 100 ml of wine (1 bottle = 7 standard drinks)
  • 285ml (1 middy) of full strength beer
  • one 375 ml can or bottle of mid strength beer
  • 425ml (1 schooner) of low alcohol beer
  • 285 ml of regular cider 
  • 60ml (2 nips) fortified wine
  • 30 ml (1nip) of spirits 
  • 220-250ml alcopop/alcoholic soda (2/3 bottle)

There is no evidence to suggest that alcoholic drinks (such as red wine) protect against any type of cancer.


  • If you do choose to drink, limit to special occasions.
  • Drink water rather than alcohol when thirsty.
  • Choose low-alcohol drinks.
  • Have a few alcohol free days during the week.

Eat a healthy diet

Fruit and vegetables are low in fat and calories and will help maintain a healthy body weight. They may also protect against cancer of the mouth, throat, oesophagus, stomach and bowel.

Eating red meat, in particular, processed meat may increase the risk of bowel cancer.

Choose wholegrain cereal products (such as wholemeal bread and brown rice). They’re good for your overall health, and will help you maintain a healthy body weight.


  • Aim to eat five servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit each day. A serving size is about a handful.
  • Limit red meat intake to 3-4 serves a week. One serve should roughly fit into the palm of your hand.
  • Limit or avoid eating processed meats like sausages, frankfurts, salami, bacon and ham.

Further information and resources

This information is based on current available evidence at the time of review. For further information and advice on how to reduce your personal cancer risk talk to your doctor or contact Cancer Council 13 11 20.

This information can be photocopied for distribution.

Last updated December 2020.

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Cancer Council ACT



(02) 6257 5055



Unit 1 (The Annex)
173 Strickland Crescent
Deakin ACT 2600