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Reduce your risk - Cancer

More than 1 in 2 people will develop some form of cancer during their lifetime.

Not all cancers can be prevented but there are things you can do to reduce your risk of developing cancer.

To lower your chance of developing cancer:

  • do not smoke
  • manage your weight
  • take part in vaccination programmes and cancer screening
  • limit alcohol
  • protect your skin from the sun and do not use sunbeds
  • reduce your risk of radon in your home
  • eat well
  • talk to your GP about your hormonal therapy
  • be active
  • follow health and safety rules at work to avoid cancer-causing substances
  • breastfeed if you can

If you have a cancer diagnosis talk to your care team about what is right for you.

Do not smoke

Smoking increases your risk of at least 15 types of cancer.

Do not start smoking.

If you smoke, get help to quit. You will reduce your risk of cancer, even if you smoked for a long time.

It can be hard to make a change like this. But, it is possible and there are a lot of free supports available.

Get help to quit

Avoid second-hand smoke

Second-hand smoke (when other people smoke, and you breathe in the smoke) also increases your cancer risk.

Keep your home, car and workplace smoke free.

Eat well

Good eating habits and eating a wide variety of nourishing foods can reduce your risk of cancer. Eating well also helps you manage your weight.

To lower your risk of cancer:

  • eat foods high in fibre such as fruit, vegetables, wholegrains and pulses
  • limit sugar sweetened drinks
  • avoid processed foods high in fat, starches or sugars

Avoid processed meat and limit red meat to no more than 3 portions a week to lower your risk of bowel cancer.

All about healthy eating

Stay active

Physical activity can reduce your risk of some types of cancer, such as breast, bowel and womb cancer.

Being active helps:

  • keep your hormones at a healthy level
  • you manage your weight

Try to be physically active in your everyday life. Even a few minutes of movement a day can help. Your mood will improve and you will feel well.

Fit physical activity into your day

Manage your weight

Carrying excess weight or living with obesity can increase your risk of some cancers. These include mouth, ovarian, stomach and bowel cancer.

Excess weight can affect your hormone levels and your immune system. This can increase your risk of cancer.

There are things you can do to help you manage your weight.

Do

Talk to your GP about managing your weight or treating obesity.

Ask them about any support services available.

Limit alcohol

Alcohol increases your risk of at least 7 types of cancer. These include mouth, throat, larynx, oesophagus, breast, stomach and bowel cancer.

When alcohol is broken down in your body it can damage your body’s cells. This can increase your risk of cancer.

If you choose to drink alcohol, limit the amount you drink. The less you drink, the lower your risk of cancer.

Drink within low-risk alcohol guidelines

Tips for drinking less

Protect your skin from the sun and sunbeds

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and sunbeds can damage skin and increase your risk of skin cancer.

To reduce your risk of getting skin cancer:

  • protect your skin from the sun
  • never use a sunbed

Who is at risk of skin cancer

Anyone can get skin cancer so everyone needs to protect their skin from UV light. But some people are more at risk than others.

You may be at higher risk if you:

  • have fair skin
  • work outdoors
  • do outdoor sport and activities

Children and adolescents are also more at risk.

How to protect your skin

Follow the SunSmart 5S rule: slip, slop, slap, seek and slide

  • Slip on clothes that cover your skin, such as long sleeves and t-shirts with a collar.
  • Slop on sunscreen on skin that is not covered, using factor 30+ for adults, 50+ for children and reapply regularly.
  • Slap on a wide-brimmed hat to protect your face, ears and neck.
  • Seek shade especially if outdoors between 11am and 3pm and always use a sunshade on a child’s buggy.
  • Slide on wraparound sunglasses with UV protection to protect your eyes.

Don't

  • do not use sunbeds

  • do not try to get a suntan

  • do not get sunburnt

Check the UV index

The UV index tells you how strong the sun’s UV rays are each day.

You need to protect your skin when the UV index is 3 or above.

In Ireland, the UV index is usually 3 or above from April to September, even when it is cloudy. UV is usually strongest between 11am and 3pm.

Check the UV index on Met Éireann

How to prevent sunburn in children

Take part in cancer screening

Reduce your risk of cancer by taking part in free cancer screening programmes.

These can either find:

  • abnormal cell changes before symptoms develop
  • signs of cancer at an early stage

In Ireland, the cancer screening programmes are:

Non-urgent advice: Always see a GP if:

  • you have symptoms of cancer at any age

Do this even if you recently had cancer screening or a negative screening result.

Do not wait to have a screening test.

Get vaccinations

Some cancers are caused by viruses.

There are vaccinations that can protect against these.

Make sure your children take part in vaccination programmes for:

  • hepatitis B - for newborns
  • human papillomavirus (HPV) - for first year students in secondary school

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a viral infection that can cause liver cancer.

The hepatitis B vaccine is part of the routine immunisation programme for children.

HPV

HPV can cause a range of cancers including cervical, penile, anal, mouth and throat cancer.

The HPV vaccine protects against the main HPV strains that are related to cancer. But it does not protect you from all types of HPV - there are many types of HPV.

The HPV vaccine is offered to:

  • first year students in secondary school
  • men who have sex with men and people more at risk of HPV

Getting the HPV vaccine

You are still at risk of developing cervical cancer if you have had the HPV vaccine. This is why cervical screening is important.

Warning

You are still at risk of developing cervical cancer if you have had the HPV vaccine. This is why cervical screening is important.

Follow health and safety rules at work

You may be exposed to cancer-causing substances in your workplace. These may include benzene, silica dust, asbestos and wood dust.

Follow your workplace safety regulations and advice to reduce your risk of cancer.

If you work outdoors protect your skin from the sun.

Safe use of chemicals - hsa.ie

Reduce your radon risk

Radon is a radioactive gas in the air that can cause lung cancer. You are at risk of lung cancer if you are exposed to radon over a long time. Your risk is higher if you smoke.

To protect yourself from radon:

  • test the radon level in your home or workplace
  • take action to reduce the radon level if it is high
  • get help to quit smoking

Test your radon levels and check the radon risk map - epa.ie

Breastfeed, if you can

If you breastfeed your baby this will reduce your risk of breast cancer. Breastfeeding lowers certain hormones in the body and may also protect cells in the breast from changes.

The longer you breastfeed, the more protected you are. Consider breastfeeding, if it is an option for you.

Breastfeeding your baby

Talk about hormone treatments

The combined oral contraceptive pill can slightly increase the risk of breast and cervical cancers. But it can decrease the risk of ovarian and womb cancers. Each person’s risk is different.

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is used to reduce the symptoms of menopause. Some types of HRT may increase the risk of breast, womb and ovarian cancer, but the increased risk is small.

The benefits of taking HRT or the pill outweigh the risks for many women.

Talk to your GP about the risks and benefits to you.

Hormone replacement therapy

Spot early signs of cancer

Finding cancer early means you are more likely to survive it.

Cancer can cause changes to how your body normally looks, works or feels.

Signs and symptoms of cancer

How to check your skin for signs of skin cancer

Page last reviewed: 26 March 2024
Next review due: 26 March 2027