New campaign tackles cancer-causing lifestyle choices

FAMILY: Wendy Smith from Yamba with her husband Peter (far left) and son Graham, who has survived cancer.
FAMILY: Wendy Smith from Yamba with her husband Peter (far left) and son Graham, who has survived cancer.

WENDY Smith from Yamba knows the impact of cancer too well, with her son Graham diagnosed with T-cell lymphoma in 2005 when he was 20 years old. 11 years on, he is now a fit and healthy cancer survivor with one small child. Graham surviving cancer has given Wendy so much hope for others, but has also made her very passionate about promoting prevention messages.

"My generation grew up with no cancer prevention awareness. We parented with the 'slip slop slap' message and now our children can educate their children with 'slip slop slap', plus these extra cancer prevention messages," said Wendy.

"I don't want my children or grandchildren to go through the preventable cancers that my generation are still experiencing. We are heading towards wiping out preventable cancers which is exciting," she said.

A new campaign launched by Cancer Council NSW - "1 in 3 Cancers" - is tackling the low awareness across the Clarence Valley region of all the lifestyle factors that evidence shows increase cancer risk. Poor diet, being overweight, not doing enough physical activity and drinking too much alcohol collectively contribute to nearly as many cancer cases as smoking.

New data in line with the campaign show that while there is growing awareness in NSW that smoking cigarettes (93 per cent of community members said they were aware of this risk factor), getting sunburnt (88 per cent) and spending time outdoors when UV levels are three and above (89 per cent) all contribute to a person's risk of getting cancer, there is still a significant lack of awareness about what else can cause cancer.

In fact, Cancer Council NSW's research found that only 40 per cent of people in NSW could identify being overweight as a risk factor for cancer. The same number (40 per cent) recognise insufficient fruit and vegetable intake as contributing to cancer risk. Alarmingly, only a quarter of people (26 per cent) were aware that being physically inactive or sitting too much could increase a person's risk of getting cancer.

Further, less than half of people (46 per cent) recognised drinking alcohol as contributing to their cancer risk, and over one-third (36 per cent) of people still do not know that eating too much red meat can cause cancer.

Evidence shows that 1 in 3 cases of cancer are preventable by leading a healthy lifestyle, adding up to around 37,000 preventable cases in Australia every year.

Cancer Council NSW's "1 in 3 Cancers" mass media campaign will address for the first time all the ways in which people can reduce their cancer risk through healthy lifestyle choices: not smoking; protecting themselves from the sun; achieving a healthy weight; cutting down on alcohol; cutting down on red and processed meats, eating more fruit and vegetables and being physically active.

Yonit Kittay at Cancer Council NSW said that with a lot of myths about what causes cancer, and a lack of awareness around a number of the lifestyle factors we know increase cancer risk, this campaign will help people make longer-term, positive changes to help reduce their risk of the disease.

"While skin cancer prevention and anti-smoking campaigns are now commonplace in Australian society, with strong awareness of UV and smoking as cancer risk factors, this is the first mass media campaign in which we have addressed comprehensive cancer prevention messaging around the other lifestyle factors we know increase cancer risk.

"Preventing cancer is one of the most powerful ways that we can reduce the future impact of the disease. We see this campaign as the next step toward educating and empowering the community on all the things that they can do now to reduce their risk of getting cancer in the future.

"There is no guarantee that people who lead a healthy lifestyle will not get cancer, as there are other factors that cause cancer that are not modifiable. But by changing the habits that we know are directly linked to increased cancer risk, people can stack the odds of preventing the disease significantly in their favour."

To learn more about Cancer Council NSW's "1 in 3 Cancers" campaign - and to assess your current cancer risk - visit www.1in3cancers.

Topics:  cancer cancer council general-seniors-news medical prevention

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