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Preventing cancer

Nurse and patients talking about cancer

This page tells you about preventing cancer. There is information about


Reducing your risk of cancer

We can help to prevent cancer by avoiding things that we know increase our risk of certain cancers, such as smoking, eating unhealthy food and being in the sun for too long. This doesn't guarantee that you won't get cancer but it reduces your risk of getting it. Cancer often has more than one known cause and sometimes the exact cause is not known.

You can order or download copies of the Cancer Research UK leaflets about cancer prevention and a healthy lifestyle from our News and Resources website. There are leaflets about reducing cancer risk generally including ones on diet, exercise, smoking and alcohol. There are also leaflets about reducing the risk of specific cancers including cancer of the mouth, bowel, skin, breast and cervix. You can order online or contact the team on or 0203 469 8333 if you need any help.


Stopping smoking

Smoking causes over 8 out of 10 cases (80%) of lung cancer in the UK. It also increases the risk of many other types of cancer, including

A study in 2011 estimated that smoking causes nearly a fifth of all cancer cases in the UK. Overall about a quarter (25%) of all cancer deaths are linked to smoking. 

If you want to reduce your risk of cancer, stopping smoking is a good way to start. There is more information about risk of cancer and smoking in the cancer statistics section of the website.


Healthy eating

Some researchers estimate that unhealthy diets cause nearly 1 in 10 cancer cases in the UK. We could reduce the incidence of some types of cancer if we all ate more healthily. This means general changes to our diets and trying to maintain a healthy weight. There is no one food that we should or should not eat to help prevent cancer. Diet has been linked to several types of cancer including cancer of the

Most of us would be able to change our diet in some way to make it healthier. To eat more healthily we should

  • Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables a day
  • Eat plenty of fibre
  • Eat smaller and fewer portions of red and processed meat
  • Cut down on fat, particularly saturated fat found in fatty meat, biscuits, cheese and butter
  • Cut down on salt
  • Cut down on sugar

The best way to get all the vitamins, minerals and nutrients that we need is to eat a wide variety of foods. No one food can give us all we need. To eat a balanced diet, you should include some fresh fruit and vegetables, some starchy foods and some protein foods every day. To make sure your diet is as healthy as possible you should look at your fibre, fruit and vegetable, fat, salt and alcohol intakes.

There is very detailed information about diet and preventing cancer in the healthy eating section.


Limiting your sun exposure

We should all try not to get burnt in the sun and to be aware of the damage it can do to our skin. But some people need to be particularly careful about going out in the sun, for example if you

  • Are fair skinned
  • Have lots of moles (more than 50)
  • Have a close relative who has had melanoma

It is probably most sensible not to deliberately sun bathe at all. But if you are going to then it is important to protect your skin when the sun is at its most intense. Remember to

  • Spend time in the shade between 11am and 3pm
  • Wear a T shirt, hat and sunglasses
  • Use sunscreen with at least SPF 15 (the higher the better), with good UVA protection (the more stars the better). Remember to reapply it regularly

There is more about sun protection generally, and about sunscreens in the melanoma skin cancer section.

Sunbeds increase your risk of skin cancer and we recommend that you don't use them.

The sun produces a range of types of radiation. There are also other types of radiation we are exposed to, such as X-rays in medical tests and natural radon from the environment. There is information about these in the causes and cancer section. There is also more about reducing your exposure to possible cancer causing substances at work.

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Updated: 1 October 2013