Cancer Prevention Toolbox for Patients and Citizens: Empowering Your Cancer Prevention Journey
Cancer touches the lives of almost everyone, either through personal experiences or by affecting our loved ones. Fighting cancer can be really tough and it can affect both our physical health and our emotions. Yet, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that between 30-50% of all cancer cases are preventable. This means that while we may not be able to prevent all types of cancer, there are proactive steps we can take to reduce our risk. These steps primarily revolve around lifestyle choices, diet, and physical activity.
To address this, there are many official guidelines developed by experts in cancer research, prevention, epidemiology, public health, and policy, reflecting the latest scientific evidence concerning dietary and activity patterns and their impact on cancer risk. Such guidelines recommend the following key choices for individuals:
- Achieve and maintain a healthy body weight throughout life
- Be physically active
- Follow a healthy eating pattern at all ages
- It is best not to drink alcohol
But how do we put these recommendations into practice?
This toolbox gives you the recommended steps and valuable information to help you adopt and maintain healthy habits.
Your cancer risk can be reduced by having healthy food and drink. Aim to have a diet rich in vegetables, fruit, wholegrain cereals and wholemeal foods, legumes and beans. This can also protect you from becoming overweight and obese, another key risk factor for cancer.
Studies have shown that certain chemicals in red and processed meats – both added and naturally occurring – cause these foods to be carcinogenic (cancer causing). Thus, limiting red meat and avoiding processed meats in your diet reduces your cancer risk.
Consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, as well as highly processed foods and refined grain products should also be limited. Foods and drinks high in sugar can increase you risk of cancer, as they lead to weight gain and increase risks of other health problems, such as type 2 diabetes.
Tips on eating more fruits:
- If you are craving something sweet, reach for a piece of fruit or make a healthy fruit smoothie
- Choose fruits that are in-season, have a longer shelf-life and require minimal preparation (apples, bananas, grapes, pears and mandarins). They are easy to grab to eat on the go, or to pack in a lunchbox
- Display your fruit in a bowl on your kitchen countertop as a reminder to eat your daily recommended serving
- Top your porridge or cereal with fruits for breakfast
- Add sliced orange, mango or pear to your lunch time salad
Tips on getting more wholegrain in your diet:
- Eat porridge, low-sugar Bircher muesli, or toasted whole grain bread for breakfast
- Try a wholemeal salad wrap or soup with a whole grain bread roll for lunch
- For dinner, cook up a stir fry with buckwheat noodles, add barley to soups and casseroles, or make a salad using different grains like brown rice, wholemeal pasta or quinoa
- Replace white rice with quinoa or brown rice, opt for buckwheat (soba) noodles over rice noodles, choose whole wheat pastas instead of white, and replace white bread with wholegrain and wholemeal varieties
Tips on eating less meat:
- Add more vegetables and legumes/beans to stews, curries and casseroles for a hearty, fibre and protein-rich meal
- Substitute with a hard-boiled egg, tofu or flaked tuna on your salad or sandwich
- Add avocado, or vegetables like sweet potato and tomatoes or low-fat cheese to an omelette, instead of bacon, ham or sausage
Tips on eating less sugar:
- Make water your drink of choice. Add some flavour with a slice of lemon, lime or orange
- Add some fruit for sweetness instead of sugar
- Add avocado, or vegetables like sweet potato and tomatoes or low-fat cheese to an omelette, instead of bacon, ham or sausage
- Grab some fruit as a snack, rather than a biscuit or a piece of cake
Avoid or drink less alcohol
Alcohol consumption has been shown to cause at least 8 types of cancer2. Ethanol in alcoholic beverages is carcinogenic to humans, thus alcoholic beverages (even small portions) of all types increase risk of cancer. Drinking less alcohol is an important step in cancer prevention.
Tips to lower your cancer risk from alcohol:
- Set yourself a limit* and count your drinks (you may find the Drink Meter app helpful)
- Swat to low or no alcohol alternatives
- Create a habit of having alcohol-free days every week
Tips to adapt to new drinking habits during first weeks:
- Avoid the events where there is drinking
- Try to see friends during a day rather than an evening
- Prefer to meet with friends and family for a walk in the park, rather than meeting at place where alcohol is available
- Swap after-works drinks at the pub to coffee at a café before work or during lunch
- Create a support network (friends, family, or online community)
Some popular low or no alcohol alternatives include:
- low or no alcohol beer, cider or wine
- mocktails instead of cocktails
- sparkling juice
- soda water (can be flavoured with citrus or a splash of juice)
*For adults no more than one (for women) or two (for man) drinks per day, and no more than 10 standard drinks per week. Check here the Standard drink calculator on how to count the amount of drink. Anyone under 18 years of age along with women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or planning a pregnancy, should not drink at all.
Be physically active
Maintaining a healthy weight is very important for overall health and cancer prevention. Low or absence of adequate physical activity throughout your day in combination with unbalanced or unhealthy diet may lead to overweight and obesity, which are well-known risk factors for cancer.
It is recommended that adults should have 150-300 min of moderate-intensity physical activity, or 75-150 min of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week. Children and adolescents should engage in at least 1 hr of moderate- or vigorous-intensity activity each day. But even small amount of exercise is good for you! Start with moderate intensity activity each day, limit sedentary behaviour, such as sitting, lying down, and watching television, and other forms of screen-based entertainment.
Some great examples of moderate intensity activity:
- Brisk walking
- Recreational swimming
- Climbing stairs
- Cleaning windows
- Pushing a stroller
- Cycling to/from work
Some ideas for vigorous intensity activity:
- Fast cycling
- Competitive or team sports (football, basketball, tennis)
- Lifting and carrying
Tips to get more physical activity:
- Walk or cycle instead of driving
- Try stairs instead of taking a lift or escalator
- Check at your working place if walking meeting can be introduced instead of a sit-down meeting
- Catch up with friends and go for a stroll, do a hike, or take a fitness class together
- Do some stretching or strength exercises while watching TV
- Walk around as you talk instead of siting while on the phone
Tobacco use can cause cancer almost anyway in your body, including lungs, bronchi and trachea; blood; bladder; colon and rectum; cervix; oesophagus; kidney and renal pelvis; liver; pancreas; mouth and throat; stomach; and larynx. Thus, the most important what you can do to reduce cancer risk is to quit smoking. Smokeless tobacco (such as dipping and chewing tobacco) products can cause cancer too (cancers of the oesophagus, mouth and throat, and pancreas).
Quitting reduces your risk of cancer no matter for how long you have been smoking. However, most of the smokers get addicted to the nicotine, a drug found in tobacco, making it hard to quit tobacco use (cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and electronic cigarettes). The use of nicotine-replacing medication and counselling support has shown to give best results.
Tools and tips to help you quit:
- Set a date to quit: it can help motivate you, and prepare mentally and physically for upcoming positive change in your life
- Find safe substitutes for the cigarettes: in the days before you quit, try out different substitutes (toothpick, straws, cinnamon sticks, pencils, etc.), find what works best for you, and use them when you quit
- Make the environment to support you: get rid of all cigarettes at your home, car, office; get rid of things that you use while smoking (matches, lighters, ashtrays)
- Understand your triggers: knowing when you smoke, can help you get control over your habit (for examples, if you smoke after lunch or dinner – try to replace this routine with a glass of water and a short walk)
- Get support from your doctor or pharmacist: they may suggest nicotine replacement therapy (over-the-counter patch, gum, lozenge; or prescription nasal spray, inhaler); or pill prescription medication
- Reduce your caffeine and alcohol, as it is a common trigger for smoking for many
- Plan some rewards: calculate how much you will save each week, month, and year by reducing tobacco use, and plan some nice rewards for you and your family (a trip, home renovation, or maybe a new device?)
- Use mobile apps for quitting support (numerous free options, chose what fits best for you)
Common cancer Myths & Facts
Is cancer a death sentence?
Cancer is not necessarily a death sentence, and the outcome varies depending on various factors such as the type and stage of cancer, individual health, treatment options, and early detection. While cancer can be a serious and life-threatening disease, advances in medical research, early detection, and improved treatments have significantly increased survival rates and quality of life for many cancer patients.
Read more about ‘’Fighting cancer in the EU: statistics and action’’ here.
Is cancer contagious?
Cancer is not contagious and cannot be transmitted through close contact or shared environments. Cancer cells from one person cannot survive in the body of a healthy individual as the immune system recognizes and eliminates foreign cells, including cancer cells. While certain infections can increase the risk of developing certain types of cancer, cancer itself cannot be directly passed from person to person.
Familial clustering of cancer cases does not imply contagion. Shared genetics, similar lifestyles, or exposure to common cancer-causing agents may contribute to higher cancer rates within families, but it does not mean that family members have spread cancer to each other.
Cancer clusters, where multiple cancer patients have had contact, are often misinterpreted as evidence of contagion. However, these clusters usually do not have a higher cancer rate than the general population, and other factors such as environmental exposures and lifestyle choices likely play a role.
In rare cases, cancer cells from an organ donor may cause cancer to develop in the organ recipient. However, careful screening of organ donors reduces this risk, and weakened immune systems in transplant recipients make them more vulnerable to cancer.
During pregnancy, the impact of cancer on the baby is rare. While some cancers can spread to the placenta, most cancers do not affect the baby directly.
It is crucial to dispel the misconception that cancer is contagious to prevent isolation and discrimination against individuals with cancer. They need support and understanding from their loved ones. Reaching out to someone with cancer should not be feared, as cancer cannot be transmitted between individuals.
More information can be found here.
Is there Safe Alcohol Consumption?
Understanding the truth about alcohol consumption and its link to cancer is vital for making informed choices about our health. By dispelling the following myths, we can create awareness and encourage responsible drinking habits that prioritize our long-term well-being.
Myth 1: Moderate alcohol consumption is completely safe.
Fact: Even moderate alcohol intake can increase the risk of certain cancers like breast, liver, colorectal, and oesophageal cancer. Long-term and excessive alcohol use poses higher risks.
Myth 2: Red wine is a healthy choice and protects against cancer.
Fact: While red wine contains beneficial antioxidants like resveratrol, the risks associated with alcohol consumption outweigh its benefits. Antioxidants can be obtained from other sources without the risks of alcohol.
Myth 3: Only heavy drinkers are at risk of alcohol-related cancers.
Fact: Heavy alcohol consumption significantly raises the risk, but even moderate drinking contributes to increased cancer risk. Any amount of alcohol consumption elevates certain cancer risks, accumulating with higher intake.
Myth 4: Drinking alcohol in moderation is safe with alcohol-free days.
Fact: Alcohol-free days can reduce overall consumption but don’t eliminate the increased cancer risk. Cumulative alcohol intake over time can still lead to alcohol-related cancers.
Myth 5: Certain types of alcohol, like vodka or clear spirits, are less likely to cause cancer.
Fact: The type of alcohol consumed doesn’t affect the risk of alcohol-related cancers. Ethanol in all alcoholic beverages contributes to the increased cancer risk.
Myth 6: Moderate alcohol consumption provides cardiovascular benefits that outweigh cancer risk.
Fact: While moderate alcohol intake may reduce certain cardiovascular risks, the potential benefits should be balanced against the increased cancer risk. Overall health risks, including cancer, should be considered.
Myth 7: Non-smokers who consume alcohol don’t face an increased cancer risk.
Fact: Alcohol consumption raises cancer risk for non-smokers too. Combining smoking and alcohol further amplifies the risk of developing certain cancers. Minimizing both behaviours is crucial for overall health.
Myth 8: Moderate drinking without excess eliminates cancer risks.
Fact: Even low or moderate alcohol consumption contributes to increased cancer risk, although smaller compared to heavy drinking. Being aware of potential risks and making informed decisions about alcohol consumption is essential.
Some useful sources are the following:
Are there safe smoking and tobacco options?
In recent years, the focus on cigarette alternatives and the risks of second-hand smoke has increased. However, there are several myths surrounding these topics that need to be addressed. By understanding the facts, individuals can make informed decisions regarding their health and the well-being of those around them.
Myth 1: E-cigarettes are harmless alternatives to traditional cigarettes.
Fact: While e-cigarettes may contain fewer toxic substances than traditional cigarettes, their long-term health effects are still uncertain. Studies suggest potential harm to lung health and an increased risk of smoking initiation among young people.
Myth 2: Heat-not-burn tobacco products are safer than traditional cigarettes.
Fact: Heat-not-burn tobacco products still contain harmful chemicals and carcinogens, posing health risks similar to traditional cigarettes. They are not risk-free alternatives.
Myth 3: Smokeless tobacco products are safe alternatives to smoking.
Fact: Smokeless tobacco products, such as chewing tobacco and snuff, contain harmful chemicals that can lead to various types of cancer, including oral, oesophageal, and pancreatic cancer. They are not safe alternatives to smoking.
Myth 4: Switching to cigarette alternatives eliminates the risks of second-hand smoke.
Fact: Second-hand smoke from cigarette alternatives, such as e-cigarettes or heat-not-burn products, exposes non-smokers to harmful chemicals and toxins. It remains a health risk for those around the smoker.
Myth 5: Second-hand smoke is harmless.
Fact: Second-hand smoke is a significant health hazard, containing over 7,000 chemicals, many of which are known to cause cancer. Non-smokers exposed to second-hand smoke have an increased risk of lung cancer and respiratory illnesses.
Myth 6: Opening windows or using ventilation systems eliminates the risks of second-hand smoke.
Fact: While opening windows or using ventilation systems may reduce the concentration of second-hand smoke, it does not eliminate the associated health risks. The best protection for non-smokers is to have completely smoke-free environments.
Myth 7: Only direct inhalation of smoke poses a risk from second-hand smoking.
Fact: Second-hand smoke can linger in the air and settle on surfaces, making it possible to inhale or come into contact with harmful chemicals even without direct exposure to the smoke. Enclosed spaces can exacerbate these health risks.
Myth 8: Thirdhand smoke is not a concern.
Fact: Thirdhand smoke refers to residual chemicals and toxins left on surfaces and in dust after smoking. It poses health risks, particularly for infants and children who may come into contact with contaminated surfaces.
Some useful sources are the following:
Do healthy diet and exercise have an impact on cancer risk?
By understanding and dispelling the following myths, individuals can embrace a balanced and nutritious diet, engage in regular physical activity, and take proactive steps to reduce their risk of cancer. Remember, a healthy lifestyle is a powerful tool in promoting overall well-being and reducing the likelihood of developing cancer.
Myth 1: Eating a healthy diet and exercising cannot reduce the risk of cancer.
Fact: A healthy diet and regular exercise can play a significant role in reducing the risk of cancer. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins, along with regular physical activity, can help maintain a healthy weight, boost the immune system, and reduce inflammation, all of which contribute to lower cancer risk.
Myth 2: Only certain foods have anti-cancer properties.
Fact: While some foods, like berries, cruciferous vegetables, and green tea, are known for their potential anti-cancer properties, a healthy diet should consist of a variety of nutrient-dense foods. The overall pattern of eating, rather than individual foods, is key to reducing cancer risk.
Myth 3: You have to follow a strict diet to reduce cancer risk.
Fact: Adopting a healthy diet doesn’t require strict adherence to specific diets. Instead, focus on consuming a balanced and varied diet that includes a wide range of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Moderation is key, and small indulgences can be part of an overall healthy eating plan.
Myth 4: Exercise has little impact on cancer risk.
Fact: Regular physical activity has been shown to reduce the risk of various cancers, including breast, colorectal, and lung cancer. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise per week, along with strength training exercises, to lower cancer risk.
Myth 5: Maintaining a healthy weight doesn’t affect cancer risk.
Fact: Excess body weight is a significant risk factor for several types of cancer, including breast, colorectal, and pancreatic cancer. Adopting a healthy diet and engaging in regular physical activity can help achieve and maintain a healthy weight, reducing the risk of obesity-related cancers.
Myth 6: Supplements can replace a healthy diet for cancer prevention.
Fact: While certain supplements may have health benefits, they cannot substitute for a healthy diet. It’s best to obtain nutrients from whole foods whenever possible, as they contain a variety of beneficial compounds that work together synergistically to reduce cancer risk.
Myth 7: Cancer prevention requires extreme exercise routines.
Fact: Engaging in moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking, cycling, or swimming, is sufficient for reducing cancer risk. Extreme exercise routines are not necessary and may increase the risk of injuries. Consistency and regularity are more important than intensity.
Myth 8: It’s too late to make a difference in cancer risk through diet and exercise.
Fact: It’s never too late to adopt a healthy lifestyle. Even small changes in diet and exercise habits can have a positive impact on cancer risk reduction. Start making healthy choices today to improve your overall health and lower your cancer risk.
Some useful sources are the following:
More information & Useful Tool
Information about cancer, its’ risks, prevention, treatment and other resources:
- Prevent Cancer Foundation
- World cancer research fund international
- American Cancer Society
- American Cancer Society guideline for diet and physical activity for cancer prevention
- World Health Organization
- Patient UK
- Centers For Disease Control and Prevention
Drinks Meter app: https://www.drinksmeter.com/
Standard drink calculator:
Tips and ideas to implement healthy eating and activity habits to reduce cancer risk:
More information about the cancer, diagnosis and prevention measures in your country can be found here:
|Country||Cancer society and info on cancer prevention|
|Austria||Austrian Cancer Society|
|Belgium||Fondation contre le Cancer|
|Republic of Cyprus||Αντικαρκινικός Σύνδεσμος Κύπρου|
|Czech Republic||Liga proti rakovině Praha|
|Denmark||Dansk Brystkræft Organisation, DBO|
|France||Société Française du Cancer|
|Greece||Ελληνική Αντικαρκινική Εταιρεία|
|Hungary||Magyar Onkológusok Társasága|
|Ireland||Irish Cancer Society|
|Italy||Associazione Italiana Malati di Cancro|
|Portugal||Liga Portuguesa Contra o Cancro|
|Romania||Liga Româna de Cancer|
|Spain||Asociación Española Contra el Cáncer|
|UK||Cancer Research UK|