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New research: Victorians in denial over impact of alcohol & weight on cancer risk

Tuesday 18 January, 2011

Stick with new year resolutions to cut your cancer risk by more than a third.

Victorians are putting their long-term health in danger by underestimating the impact they can have on their risk of developing cancer by taking action now and improving their lifestyle.

Research released today by Cancer Council Victoria [1] shows that Victorians are either in the dark or don't want to acknowledge the lifestyle changes they can make to decrease their risk of cancer. 

Only 9% of Victorians named limiting alcohol and only 1% suggested weight control when asked what they could do to reduce their risk of cancer – despite obesity being a leading risk factor for cancer and alcohol causing around 1300 cancer-related deaths a year in Australia.

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

"There is a tendency for people to believe that cancer is out of their control, a product of environmental factors 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."

"It's concerning that some factors such as stress for which there is no proven causal link to cancer sometimes rank higher on people's perceptions of cancer risk than supported factors such as weight control and alcohol.

"We call on the new state government to prioritise cancer prevention in 2011 and help improve awareness of lifestyle factors and their impact on cancer risk," said Mr Sinclair. 

The research also found that when prompted, cigarettes, sun exposure and family history were the top three things that people considered to be very important in reducing cancer risk.

People often view the new year as an opportunity to make new years resolutions committing to positive lifestyle changes. Unfortunately there is still confusion out there about what the real risks and bad habits are. So here's some tips from the Cut your cancer risk team on how to ensure a healthier 2011:

  1. Maintain a healthy weight.
    The research found that this is not top-of-mind when it comes to reducing your risk of developing cancer, only 1% of respondents named weight control as a specific step. But more than a third of Australia's cancer deaths relate to unhealthy lifestyles including poor eating and exercise habits. Women should aim for a waistline of less than 85cm while men need to be under 100 cm to significantly decrease the risk of cancer and other chronic illnesses.
  2. Be physically active.
    Up to one hour of moderate activity or 30 minutes of vigorous activity daily can cut your risk of cancer. 38% of survey respondents named exercise as a way to reduce cancer risk and when prompted this went up to 47%. There is good evidence [2] that risk of developing two of the most common Australian cancers, colon and breast, decreases with exercise.
  3. Quit smoking.
    Only 51% of people surveyed named giving up smoking as a way to cut cancer risk however when prompted 93% indicated cigarettes were very important in increasing cancer risk . But more than 10,000 Australians are diagnosed with a smoking-related cancer every year and lung cancer is the biggest cancer killer.  So put down the cigarettes and call Quitline on 13 7848 (13 QUIT) or visit the Quit website for more advice.
  4. Limit alcohol.
    Only 9% of people surveyed in 2010 named limiting alcohol as a way to reduce cancer risk. A strong link between alcohol consumption and cancer has been well documented, especially cancers of the upper digestive tract [3]. If you choose to drink, try and limit your alcohol intake to two standard drinks a day.
  5. Eat a balanced diet.
    In the 2010 survey results it was found that 74% of Victorians named dietary measures as a way to reduce their risk of developing cancer. However, a recent study [4] found that only 5% of men and 10% of women met the recommended daily requirements for vegetable consumption and 42% men and 55% women eat the daily requirements for fruit. So there is work to be done, although people know that there is a link, not enough people are eating a balanced diet.
  6. Get checked.
    Don't put off getting that lingering cough checked out by a doctor, and remember to have your regular Pap test. For most cancers, finding it early means treatment has a better chance of success. Just 10% of Victorians named check-ups and screening as a way to reduce cancer risk. But bowel cancer is Australia's second biggest cancer killer and if found early, more than 90% of bowel cancers can be cured, so don't put off getting checked!
  7. Be SunSmart.
    Although when prompted 74% of people surveyed named sun exposure as a cancer risk factor, without the prompting only 16% suggested sun and skin protection. In Victoria alone 357 people will die from skin cancer (melanoma and non melanoma skin cancer) each year - this is more than the state's annual road toll. So, Slip, Slop, Slap, Seek and Slide.

Cancer Council Victoria's Cut Your Cancer Risk website is designed to help educate the community about cancer prevention through healthy lifestyle choices. Visitors to the site can calculate their cancer risk and set goals to cut their own individual cancer risk.

About the survey

The Cancer Issues Population Survey (CIPS) has been conducted in 2005, 2007 and 2010, by our Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer.

The most recent results were taken from a telephone survey of just under 3000 over 18 year olds in Victoria. The research was conducted during July 2010 by a market research company on behalf of Cancer Council Victoria.

1 - Cancer Issues Population Survey (CIPS) 2005, 2007 & 2010, Cancer Council Victoria, Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer. Changes in perception of body weight, physical activity and dietary factors in relation to cancer risk in the population: updated findings

2 - International Union Against Cancer (UICC). (2004). Evidence based cancer prevention: strategies for NGOs. A UICC handbook for Europe. & World Cancer Research Fund/ American Institute for Cancer Research. (2007). Food, nutrition, physical activity and the prevention of cancer: a global perspective. Washington DC: AICR.

3 - International Union Against Cancer (UICC). (2004). Evidence based cancer prevention: strategies for NGOs. A UICC handbook for Europe.

4 - Current report - Victorian Population Health Survey 2008