New research: Obesity and alcohol not top of mind when it comes to cancer risk

Tuesday 21 January, 2014

86% of Victorians agree that they can take action to reduce their risk of cancer

More than 28,000 Victorians are diagnosed with preventable cancers each year and over 10,000 Victorians die from these cancers but the latest research from Cancer Council Victoria shows that these figures could be reduced.

"While our latest research shows that 86% of Victorians surveyed agree that they can take action to reduce their risk of cancer, awareness of certain steps they should take to reduce their risk is low. Greater community awareness of how individuals can cut their cancer risk will prevent premature deaths, grief and heartache," said Prevention Division Director, Craig Sinclair, at Cancer Council Victoria.

A telephone survey of over 2,800 Victorians found that dietary measures (71%), not smoking (59%) and exercise (36%) are the most commonly reported steps to reduce cancer risk but weight control (2%), a healthy lifestyle (3%), limiting alcohol (10%) and cancer screening (10%) are significantly lower.

"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," Mr Sinclair said.

"While messages are getting through about quitting smoking and exercising, people need to understand that cancer risk can be reduced by limiting alcohol intake, having appropriate screening tests and keeping body weight under control," he said.

Only 2% reported that weight control can reduce their risk and just 53% understood, when prompted, that being overweight was a very important cancer risk factor.

"This is worrying as there is strong evidence showing that a waistline of more than 100cm for men and 85cm for women significantly increases the risk of some cancers, including bowel, breast and oesophageal cancers."

When prompted, just one quarter of those surveyed believed that alcohol was an important cancer risk factor, despite the fact that alcohol is a cause of many breast, bowel and liver cancers.

Only one in 10 mentioned check-ups or screening as a way to reduce the risk of cancer.

"It is important to be aware of any unusual changes to your body and get them checked out. Equally, screening is important because cancer can develop without symptoms. For most cancers, finding it early means treatment has a better chance of success."

"Lastly, just 3 % of Victorians volunteered that leading a healthy lifestyle was a step that could be taken to reduce cancer risk. That's why we are encouraging Victorians to take our online cancer risk quiz to identify those lifestyle changes that they can make to reduce cancer risk. By making positive lifestyle changes, Victorians can feel better and live longer."

There are seven pretty simple ways you can cut your cancer risk:

  1. Get checked: Check for unusual changes (coughs that won't go away, unexplained weight loss, a mole or skin spot that changes colour, changes in bowel motions) and have regular cancer screening tests (breast, cervical, bowel).
  2. Limit alcohol intake. If you choose to drink alcohol, Cancer Council recommends limiting consumption to no more than two standard drinks per day and to have at least one or two alcohol-free days every week.
  3. Eat a healthy diet (recommendation is two serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit per day)
  4. Exercise daily (one hour of moderate exercise or half an hour of vigorous exercise per day)
  5. Be SunSmart (Slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen, slap on a hat, seek shade, slide on sunglasses)
  6. Don't smoke (free Quit packs are available from the Quitline on 13 78 48)
  7. Maintain a healthy weight (keep your waistline under 100cm for males and 85cm for females). 

You just never know; implementing just a few or all of these things could save your life.

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About the Research

The Cancer Issues Population Survey (CIPS) was conducted via a telephone survey of just under 3,000 adults residing in Victoria aged 18 years and over during July and August 2012 by a market research company on behalf of Cancer Council Victoria.