What we know about preventing cancer

You can make a cancer diagnosis less likely by following our Cancer Prevention Recommendations. Researchers have tested our Recommendations and shown that they can lower your risk of cancer and improve survival.

Can cancer be prevented?

Many people – including scientists – used to think that cancer was a matter of bad luck and there wasn’t much you could do to avoid getting cancer.

Thanks to the work of World Cancer Research Fund since 1982, we now know that cancer can be prevented in many cases and there are proven ways for people to make a cancer diagnosis less likely.

Experts now believe that up to 40% of cancer cases are preventable, if people didn’t smoke, avoided the sun, avoided alcohol, ate a healthy diet, maintained a healthy body weight and stayed physically active.

We want that to happen. We want to live in a world where no one develops a preventable cancer.

One of the problems with cancer is that people often don’t think about it until, sadly, they hear the words “you’ve got cancer”. While it’s true that cancer is much more common in older people – because our cells deteriorate as we age – prevention can start young. In fact, preventing cancer can start at birth, as we know that breastfeeding reduces the risk of cancer for mums and babies.

What’s the evidence?

Our evidence comes from 2 places. First, we fund scientists to look at what causes cancer and how more people can survive it – whether they’re researching a particular cancer type or a particular cause (known as an exposure). We’ve spent around £140m on this research since we were set up in 1982, and fund more than 10 new projects every year.

Second, we collate all the evidence in a database held at Imperial College London. This project, known as the Global Cancer Update Programme, ensures that, as well as individual studies, we have a much bigger picture of what causes cancer around the world.

The Global Cancer Update Programme database is regularly updated with new evidence and this allows our panel of experts to have access to the latest research. This research is used to create our Cancer Prevention Recommendations and means that they are based on the best available science.

The fact that our Recommendations have barely changed since 1997 – when we produced our first major review of the evidence related to diet, body weight, physical activity and cancer – shows that the evidence for what causes and prevents cancer is now very strong.

Independent scientists – not funded by World Cancer Research Fund – have also tested our Recommendations to see what impact they have on people’s risk of developing and surviving cancer. They say that following our Recommendations lowers the risk of a cancer developing, dying from cancer and dying from all causes, and can improve the quality of life for those living with cancer.

“Dying from all causes” is important, as the changes that reduce a person’s risk of cancer also reduce their risk of developing cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and other causes of death.

Enjoying a healthier life

Even though changing habits or sticking to healthier new ones can be hard, by following our Cancer Prevention Recommendations, as well as choosing not to smoke (or giving up smoking) and being safe in the sun, you’ll have the best chance of living a life free from cancer.

Our Recommendations also guide governments worldwide towards the policy changes that could be made to reduce population-wide cancer risk.

Dr Giota MitrouMany people believe that getting cancer is only down to your genes, fate or just bad luck, but there are things you can do to reduce your cancer risk.

There’s a lot of confusion these days about what’s healthy and what’s not. Our Recommendations are based on the latest research so you know you can trust them.
Dr Giota Mitrou, senior scientist who heads our research team

Too many people are dying from preventable cancers – with your help we can change that.

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