Australia on a cancer collision course, expert says

Holly Enriquez
Tuesday, March 16, 2010

If we don't curb the obesity crisis that's currently gripping Australia, the number of people diagnosed with cancer will double in the next 20 years, says an Australian cancer expert.

According to Professor Graham Colditz, a world-renowned specialist in cancer prevention, poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking and excess drinking, coupled with an ageing population, will create a massive spike in the incidences of cancer in the near future.

"The current number is about 105,000 people each year diagnosed with invasive cancer in Australia," Professor Colditz says. "The projection is that within 20 years, that will be 200,000 cases per year."

While the predictions are grim, the good news is that up to half of all cancers can be prevented through making simple lifestyle changes.

"Evidence is really powerful that cancer isn't inevitable," Professor Colditz says. "We can literally disrupt the cascade of events in the cells that, if left unchecked, would lead to cancer."

Prevention better than a cure

How cancer protective is your diet? Try our quiz to find out.

Maintaining a healthy weight has been proven to reduce the risk of certain cancers. The Cancer Council of Australia makes the following diet recommendations for top health and a reduced cancer risk:

  • Eat at least two serves of fruit and five serves of vegetables each day.
  • Eat a variety of raw and cooked vegetables, fruit and legumes (eg: dried beans, lentils).
  • Eat plenty of cereals (including breads, rice, pasta and noodles), preferably wholegrain.
  • Eat red meat no more than three to four times a week. On the other days choose fish, poultry, dried or canned beans or lentils.
  • Limit processed or cured meats (eg: frankfurters, bacon and ham).
  • Choose foods low in salt.
  • Don't eat too much fat, especially saturated fat. Look for hidden fats (eg: snack foods, cakes and takeaway foods).
  • Choose low-fat yoghurts, cheeses and milks.

"Our message is that you don't have to make massive lifestyle changes to reduce your risk of developing cancer," says Kathy Chapman, director of health strategies at Cancer Council NSW. "Even small things, like getting off the bus a stop early and walking the rest of the way, can result in big benefits to your health."

Just 30 minutes of extra activity a day will help you maintain a healthy weight and reduce your risk of developing cancer. See how easy it is to add activity to your day with personal trainer Leo Roldan's top five daily exercises.

Quit smoking and limit alcohol
Quitting smoking is one of the most important things you can do to prevent cancer. Cigarettes contain more than 4000 chemicals, including 60 carcinogens. After 10 years, your risk of lung cancer is halved. For more information on quitting, visit our quit centre.

Alcohol is also linked to cancers of the bowel, breast, mouth, throat, oesophagus and liver. The Cancer Council of Australia recommends no more than one standard drink per day for women and two for men with at least two alcohol-free days per week.

Slip, slop, slap
Skin cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in Australia with more than 430,000 Australians treated every year. The Cancer Council recommends avoiding solariums and covering up/wearing sunscreen when out in the sun.

Have screening tests
"We definitely need to have screening tests for breast cancer, for cervical cancer and colon cancer, but we also need these lifestyle changes to prevent the cancers that we don't screen for," Professor Colditz says. Currently there are no screening tests for ovarian, pancreatic and lung cancer.

Want to know more?

"Cancer Council NSW is currently running a number of research projects to help families eat more fruit and vegetables, and understand the long-term benefits of physical exercise and a healthier diet," says Chapman. For more information, visit

What's your risk?
To find out your cancer risk, go to the professor's cancer prevention tool, where you can also receive personalised tips for preventing certain cancers.

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