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Reduce your cancer risk

Small changes make a big difference. Learn about the six healthy living changes that can reduce your cancer risk.

Reduce your cancer risk

A cancer risk factor is something that can increase your chance of getting cancer. You cannot change some risk factors, like your age and your genetics. But you can change others, like maintaining a healthy and active life.

We know that one in three cancers can be prevented through healthy living[1]. By getting support to make six key changes in your life today, you can reduce your risk of experiencing cancer in the future.

What healthy living changes reduce your cancer risk? 

Drinking less alcohol, maintaining a healthy weight, eating healthy, exercising regularly, protecting your skin and quitting smoking are the key changes you can make to give your body the best chance against cancer[2]. They also protect you against diabetes, heart disease, stroke and other illness.

There are many factors in our lives that can make it difficult to make healthy living changes. Life can get busy and we can struggle to find the energy or time to do what we know is best for us. Sometimes, it is hard to know where to start and just the thought of change can feel overwhelming. However, it is possible to make positive changes to your daily habits.

Our practical information can support you to make healthy choices at your own pace.

Drink less alcohol

Alcohol is proven to cause cancer. The important factor is the amount of alcohol consumed. Even drinking small amounts of alcohol raises your risk. 

By drinking less alcohol, you reduce your risk of eight different types of cancer[3], including:

It is estimated that 2.8 per cent of all cancer cases in NSW each year are attributable to long-term, chronic use of alcohol. The Australian National Health and Medical Research Council recommends that adults limit themselves to two drinks a day, to limit the risk of harm.

However, from a cancer perspective there is no safe level of alcohol intake.

Maintain a healthy weight

Thirteen types of cancer are more common in people who are above a healthy weight[4]. These cancers include oesophageal, breast, liver, gallbladder, kidney, bowel, multiple myeloma, meningioma, thyroid, gastric cardia, pancreatic, ovarian and uterine.

A recent Australian study estimates that 25% of cancers (43,000 in 2025) could be prevented through improvements in diet and exercise alone[5].

A BMI of over 25 is considered overweight and a BMI of over 30 is considered obese. A healthy BMI for men and women is between 18.5–to24.9. 

Learn more about maintaining a healthy body weight.

Eat a healthy diet

You can reduce your cancer risk and assist in maintaining a healthy weight by:

  • limiting your consumption of red and processed meats
  • eating generous amounts of grains, vegetables and fruits
  • avoiding high calorie foods and drinks
  • eating less salt.

In 2015, WHO confirmed a link between diets high in red and preserved meats and bowel cancer

Learn more about eating a healthy diet.

Exercise regularly

The benefits of being more active go beyond reducing your risk of cancer. Leading a physically active lifestyle can reduce your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, improve your mental wellbeing and reduce risk of falls in older people. In cancer prevention, physical activity can reduce risk of bowel, breast and endometrium cancers.

There is more good news. Not only can being more active reduce your risk of these cancers but it can also help in maintaining a healthy body weight. 

Find new ideas on how to be more active everyday.

Protect your skin from the sun

When the UV index is three or more, it's time to protect your skin from the sun. 95 per cent of melanomas and 99 per cent of non-melanoma skin cancers are caused by UV exposure.

Reduce overexposure to the sun by protecting your skin in five ways:

  1. Wear protective clothes
  2. Wear a hat
  3. Wear sunglasses
  4. Seek shade
  5. Apply sunscreen.

Find the UV index in your area of NSW at the Australian Bureau of Meterology.

Quit smoking

Tobacco smoke is a major preventable cause of cancer and every cigarette you smoke is doing you damage.

In Australia, tobacco smoking causes about 90 per cent of lung cancer in men and 65 per cent in women[6].

The good news is that every cigarette you don’t smoke is doing you good. 

Learn more about stopping smoking


  1. ​Whiteman DC, Webb PM, Green AC, Neale RE, Fritschi L, Bain CJ, et al. Cancers in Australia in 2010 attributable to modifiable factors: summary and conclusions. Aust N Z J Public Health. 2015
  2. Nunez C, Nair-Shalliker V, Sarich P, Sitas F, Bauman A. Modifiable lifestyle factors and cancer risk an Evidence Check rapid review brokered by the Sax Institute ( for the Cancer Institute NSW, 2018
  3. International Agency for Research on Cancer. Personal Habits and Indoor Combustions. Volume 100E. IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans. Lyon: IARC, 2012.
  4. Steele CB, Thomas CC, Henley SJ, et al. Vital Signs: Trends in Incidence of Cancers Associated with Overweight and Obesity — United States, 2005–2014. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2017;66:1052–1058. DOI:
  5. Medical Journal of Australia - 'Estimating the future burden of cancers preventable by better diet and physical activity in Australia', 2012
  6. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare - 'Lung cancer in Australia: an overview', 2011