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Victorians in the dark about toxic lifestyles

Tuesday 3 August, 2010

Less than half of Victorians know a lack of exercise is an important risk factor for cancer and only 55% understand that being overweight significantly increases their risk of the disease, according to a Cancer Council survey released today.

Similarly, when asked about behaviours likely to reduce the risk of cancer, only one in ten mentioned having check-ups or participating in screening.

Director of the Cancer Prevention Centre at Cancer Council Victoria, Craig Sinclair, said that greater community awareness of how to cut cancer risk was essential to combat more than 3000 preventable Victorian cancer deaths each year.

"There is a tendency for people to believe cancer risk is down to fate or family history, but in truth, one third of all cancer deaths are due to avoidable risk factors and less than one in 10 are caused by known faulty genes.

"While messages are getting through about quitting smoking and being SunSmart, people need to understand that cancer risk can be reduced by limiting alcohol intake, having appropriate screening tests, being active and keeping body weight under control by eating fresh fruit and vegetables rather than high-energy foods. However, when surveyed only 19 per cent of Victorians volunteered that leading a healthy lifestyle is a step that can be taken to reduce cancer risk."

"There is also a degree of misinformation in the Victorian community about the risk factors for cancer. Many people interviewed in the survey incorrectly believed that stress has been shown to cause cancer," said Mr Sinclair.

Overweight and obesity

"People are unaware that controlling their weight will reduce their cancer risk - in fact only 4% of survey respondents said this was the case without prompting. What's particularly worrying is that estimates suggest that within less than five years one-third of all adults will be obese," said Mr Sinclair.

Cancer Council research shows that a waistline of over 100 cm for men and 85 cm for women significantly increases the risk of some types of cancer, including cancers of the bowel, breast and oesophagus.

Alcohol intake

Mr Sinclair said it was particularly concerning that the link between alcohol and cancer is not well known.

"In 2005, there were an estimated 2,997 new cases of cancer and 1,376 deaths from cancer as a result of excessive alcohol consumption in Australia. Despite this, a staggering 94% of Victorians failed to mention limiting alcohol consumption as a way to reduce the risk of cancer," he said.

Healthy lifestyle

Only half of the survey respondents understood that a lack of fruit and vegetable would increase their risk of cancer, placing pesticides on par and family history higher on the list of risk factors at 67%.

Recent research1 highlighted that only around half of Australian adults eat the recommended two serves of fruit a day and only 9% the recommended five of vegetables. In 2007-08, the proportion of adults who exercised sufficiently to obtain benefits to their health was 37%2.

Cut Your Cancer Risk

The results from Cancer Council Victoria come as it launches a new website to help educate the community about cancer prevention.

"The Cut Your Cancer Risk website is designed to help educate the community about cancer prevention through healthy lifestyle choices. Visitors can calculate their cancer risk and set goals to cut their own individual cancer risk," Mr Sinclair said.

Cancer Council outlines the following tips to help achieve a healthy lifestyle:

  • Check for unusual changes and have regular screening tests
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Limit alcohol
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Be physically active
  • Be SunSmart
  • Quit smoking.

Visit the Cut Your Cancer Risk Website at

1 Source: Self-reported data from the 2007-08 National Health Survey (NHS)

2 Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare analysis of the 2007-08 NHS.

Victorians chew the fat about cancer risk

  • Just over half of respondents (55%) agreed being overweight was a major risk factor for cancer
  • Only one in five were aware of the strong link between alcohol and cancer, and just 6% volunteered that limiting alcohol would reduce cancer risk
  • 42% thought stress significantly increased cancer risk despite there being no conclusive evidence that stress alone causes cancer
  • Only one in ten mentioned having a check-up or screening as a step towards reducing cancer risk
  • Just one percent mentioned that self-checks and being aware of your own body could help reduce cancer risk

Cancer Issues Population Survey

Cancer Council Victoria's most recent population survey was a telephone survey of 3,003 Victorian adults in 2007. The lifestyle responses have never been publicly released prior to now.

Victorian adults were asked what steps people could take to reduce their risk of cancer and were also prompted to indicate how important they believed various risk factors to be in increasing a person's risk of cancer.