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Do we need to rethink our attitude to cancer risks?

Experts agree that one in three cancers is preventable, so do we need to pay more attention to our lifestyle habits to reduce the risk of cancer? It’s more than quitting smoking and wearing sunscreen, it seems.

A new survey of over 3,000 Australians, commissioned by the Cancer Council NSW, reveals that we are too quick to blame cancer on factors we have no control over, such as pollution and stress. Whereas what we should be concerned about are things we can control, like alcohol, exercise and weight.

We all know what the biggest risks are, such as sun exposure and smoking, but when it comes to less well-publicised risks, it seems we could do with a reality check.

“People associated being overweight with diabetes and heart disease, but not with cancer,” said Kathy Chapman, the Cancer Council NSW director of cancer programs. “They rated pollution, chemicals and stress higher than what we actually know as risk factors, which are being overweight and [consuming] alcohol.”

Being overweight increases the risk of cancer by 25 per cent and drinking alcohol by 22 per cent. If you eat processed meats or don’t exercise, you are 15 per cent more likely to get cancer.

More: An American study found that alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer

But neither pollution, chemicals in our food or stress — which can all cause many problems — have a strong proven link to cancer.

“For people that are exposed to chemicals through their work, that would be a risk factor, but the amount we’re getting exposed to through the environment is not a concern in terms of cancer levels,” said Chapman. “The fact that two-thirds of the community are overweight or obese, that’s having a much bigger impact on cancer rates.”

Visit Cancer Council Australia for more information on the causes of cancer and how you can reduce your risk.

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