How to reduce the risk of getting cancer

Find out about some of the risk factors that are linked to cancer, how they might impact you and what you can do to reduce the risk of getting cancer.

  • If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, it isn’t your fault 
  • There are some things that can increase the risk of getting cancer – they’re called risk factors 
  • Some of these are things are things you have control over, like smoking 
  • Others are things you don’t have control over, like your genes 

Six risk factors for cancer

There are things that can increase the risk of getting cancer, known as ‘risk factors’.

Some of them you don’t have control over – like your age and your genes. Some you do have control over – like smoking, drinking, sunbathing and what you eat.

But if you’re young and living with cancer, it’s important to remember that it’s not your fault.

It’s not because you’ve done something bad. It’s not because of bad karma. You’re not to blame.

But it still makes sense to avoid the things in the list below that could make you ill again in the future.

Here are six risk factors for cancer

1. Age and cancer risks

The older you get, the more likely you are to get cancer (the risk increases a lot when you’re over 65).

That’s because, the longer you live, the more time there is for cells in your body to get damaged and change in ways that can cause cancer.

Cells also usually take a long time to become cancerous, so the older you are, the greater the risk.

2. Environment and cancer risks

Some things can contribute to cancer if you’re exposed to them a lot – like tobacco smoke, the sun, radiation and asbestos (a material used in older buildings that can be dangerous if it’s exposed).

These things are called carcinogens.

They don’t affect everyone in the same way – not everyone who smokes gets lung cancer, for example. But it still makes sense to protect yourself from carcinogens whenever you can.

It can reduce the risk of getting cancer in the future, and it’s better for your general health too.

3. Genetics and cancer risks

Cancer starts when genes in a cell start to mutate.  

And some people are born with mutations already in their cells, which can put them at greater risk of getting cancer. You won’t know that you have these mutations.

4. Immune system differences and cancer risks

If your immune system is weakened, you can be at greater risk of getting cancer. You might be at more risk if:

  • You’ve had an organ transplant and take drugs to stop your body rejecting the new organ 
  • You have HIV 
  • You have another medical condition that affects your immunity. 

5. Lifestyle and cancer risks

Big nights out, eating treats and days in the sunshine are fun. And they’re part of being young.

But things like alcohol, smoking, junk food, sunbeds, sun exposure, and not enough exercise can put you at a greater risk of cancer.

Our bodies struggle to repair themselves if we’re not living healthily. This can cause our cells to mutate, which can cause cancer.

So it’s important to look after yourself, now and in the future. Things like eating a balanced diet, quitting smoking, not drinking as much, avoiding sunbeds, using sun cream with SPF in, and exercising regularly can really make a difference to your health.

6. Viruses and cancer risks

Getting certain viruses can increase the chance of getting cancer. That doesn’t mean you can catch cancer from other people – but viruses can be passed on that change cells in ways that make cancer more likely. (Not everyone who gets these viruses will get cancer, though).
There are things you can do to prevent these viruses being passed on. For example, you can protect yourself from the human papillomavirus (HPV), which can cause some types of cancer, by having the HPV vaccine and staying safe during sex.