Cancer Prevention Charity: World Cancer Research Fund WCRF
Stopping cancer before it starts

Get updates

Keep up-to-date with the work of WCRF UK.

Follow us

Home About us Frequently asked questions

Frequently asked questions

Cancer prevention




Cancer prevention

Why do scientists keep changing their minds about what is good or bad for us?

If you read or listen to the media it can be easy to get the impression that scientists are constantly changing their minds about what increases and reduces cancer risk.

This is because individual scientific studies that are often reported in the press as scientific fact are not big enough to base conclusions on. Sometimes scientists will find that chemicals or cells react in a certain way in one circumstance but that is no guarantee the same result would happen in different circumstances.

This is the one of the reasons why it is easy to get confused about the links between cancer and lifestyle, even though there is actually widespread agreement among scientists about how people can reduce their risk.

In 2007 we published a landmark report that looked at all the evidence on cancer prevention and made 10 Recommendations for Cancer Prevention. This information is being updated and analysed on a ongoing basis through our Continuous Update Project (CUP).

Following our Recommendations is a much better way of reducing your risk of cancer than making changes based on the latest newspaper headline. You can be confident that you are following the best advice on cancer prevention available anywhere in the world.

Is it true you can live a healthy lifestyle and still develop cancer?

The evidence is clear that you can make a big difference to your risk of developing cancer by eating healthily, being physically active and maintaining a healthy weight,but this is not a guarantee.

You could have a healthy lifestyle and still develop cancer, or you could have an unhealthy lifestyle and never be affected by it. But this does not change the fact that making healthy lifestyle choices can make a significant different in reducing your cancer risk, as well as the risk of other chronic diseases.

Scientists estimate that about a third of the most common cancers could be prevented by eating healthily, being physically active and maintaining a healthy weight.

Isn’t cancer all down to your genes?

No. 5-10% of all cancers result from specifically inherited genes. It is now known that the risk of cancer is mainly affected by environmental factors, including smoking, weight, diet, physical activity and some industrial chemicals and pollutants.

This means there are roughly 90,000 preventable cases of cancer diagnosed in the UK every year – that’s enough people to fill Wembley Stadium.

The good news is that scientists estimate that about a third of cancers could be prevented through eating healthily, being physically active and maintaining a healthy weight.

How important is lifestyle in cancer prevention?

Scientists estimate that about a third of cancer cases could be prevented by eating healthily, being physically active and maintaining a healthy weight.

This means there are roughly 90,000 preventable cases of cancer diagnosed in the UK every year. To give you an idea of how many cases this is, 90,000 people would fill Wembley Stadium.

At what stage of life should people start thinking about cancer prevention?

It is never too early or too late to make the kind of healthy lifestyle choices that can reduce cancer risk. The scientific research is increasingly showing that our cancer risk is affected by what we do throughout the course of our whole lives.

For example, being breastfed probably reduces a child’s chance of being overweight, which increases cancer risk, and scientists even believe that what happens to the baby in the womb can affect its risk of cancers later in life.

This means it is never too early to start thinking about cancer prevention, which is why we fund a children’s education programme.  Getting children into healthy habits as early as possible can make a positive difference to their risk of developing cancer later in life.

Similarly, it's never too late to make the kind of healthy lifestyle choices that can reduce cancer risk.

Scientists believe that making healthy lifestyle changes can make a positive impact no matter how old you are. The best advice for older people is to eat healthy foods, maintain a healthy weight and be physically active for both cancer prevention and also risk of heart disease.

back to top


Why are there so many cancer charities and why don’t you all work together?

World Cancer Research Fund’s (WCRF) mission is different from other cancer charities. Their activities are often very wide ranging and often include aspects of the treatment and care of cancer patients. WCRF focus is specifically on cancer prevention through diet, nutrition and lifestyle.

Each cancer charity plays an important role but we feel that this area of cancer prevention research has not received the financial support and attention it deserves. Considerable scientific evidence suggests an association exists between an individual’s diet and their risk of developing cancer and WCRF works to expand on that evidence and share it with individuals who can then change their lives.

How do you use the income raised?

Information regarding how we spend donations can be found in our Annual Review.

How has WCRF UK made a difference?

Over the years WCRF UK has funded millions of pounds of scientific research that has helped us better understand how people can make lifestyle choices to reduce their risk of cancer.

We also have health information programmes that interpret the latest scientific research and communicate this to the general public. Recent opinion polls show that there are increased levels of awareness about cancer risk factors.

Find out more about us.

back to top


WCRF UK funded research is administered by WCRF International, along with all other WCRF network funded research. Information about what research is taking place in the UK can be found in the funded research section of this site or you can find details of all current and past funded research on the WCRF International funded research page.

back to top


Who is Marilyn Gentry?

Marilyn Gentry is Chief Executive of World Cancer Research Fund UK.

Who are your patrons?

We don’t have a patron.

What countries do you operate in?

We are called World Cancer Research Fund because we have an international vision. Our Second Expert Report and Continuous Update Project have a global focus.

We currently have offices and staff in the UK, USA, Netherlands and Hong Kong. For more information about our global focus, please visit our About Us section.

back to top

Frequently asked questions about cancer and cancer prevention

Watch Our Video

Watch our video to find out why WCRF UK needs your support


Page last reviewed: December 2012
Page next due for review: October 2013
The information on this page is based on the findings of our Expert Report and is covered by the Information Standard.

Information Standard logo

Social bookmarking

Share, post to your profile or blog, or email to a friend