Cancer - Reducing Your Risk

Public Health Agency

Research indicates more than 4 in 10 cancers could be prevented by lifestyle changes. You can reduce your risk with a few simple changes to your daily life and by adopting a healthy lifestyle. These are some of the most important choices you can make to reduce your cancer risk.

Avoid smoking

Smoking is the main cause of illness and early death in Northern Ireland. As well as other conditions, it causes many types of cancer, including lung, mouth, throat, bladder, kidney, stomach, pancreatic, cervical and leukaemia.

The long-term effects of second-hand smoke are also dangerous – regular passive smoking can increase your risk of lung cancer.

Northern Ireland has more than 600 stop smoking services available to people free of charge. For useful tips and help with stopping smoking, go to and order a free Quit Kit.

Maintain a healthy weight

We come in many different shapes and sizes, but maintaining a healthy weight can help reduce your risk of cancer. For most adults, that means having a body mass index (BMI) between 20–24.9. BMI can be easily calculated as:


Weight (Kg)

Height (in Metres) x Height (in Metres)

Alternatively, take a look at the BMI chart and calculator at This website also provides lots of useful tips on how to achieve a healthy weight by eating well and being more active.

Eat healthy foods

By eating well, we can help prevent many of the health problems that are common in Northern Ireland. As well as cancer, these include heart disease, obesity and high blood pressure. A healthy diet may even reduce your risk of developing vascular dementia.

Many people believe eating healthily is about dieting or eating less. In fact, it's simply a case of eating more of what your body needs and less of what it doesn't – what we call a balanced diet.

Limit alcohol consumption

Alcohol consumption is linked to an increased risk of developing cancer. Studies also indicate that the more alcohol you consume, the higher your risk of developing an alcohol-related cancer.

Drinking alcohol is considered a major risk factor for certain types of cancers, specifically head and neck cancers (oral cavity, throat and larynx), oesophageal cancer and liver cancer. Alcohol is also considered a risk factor for breast and colorectal cancers.

People who both smoke and consume alcohol are at much greater risk of developing oral, throat, larynx and oesophageal cancer than people who consume either alcohol or tobacco alone.

You can reduce your risk of developing alcohol-related cancers by choosing not to drink at all. However, if you do consume alcoholic drinks, keep within the recommended limits.

Get moving every day

Regular physical activity is important for good health. The recommendation for adults and older people is at least 30 minutes of moderate activity most days, and for school children at least 60 minutes every day.

It helps maintain a healthy weight and may reduce your risk of developing many diseases, including breast and colon cancer and even vascular dementia. For health benefits, each activity should last 10 minutes or more.

Stay safe in the sun

Over-exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, either from natural sunlight or artificial sources such as sunbeds, is the main cause of 80% of skin cancers.

Protecting yourself from these rays is an important way of reducing your risk of cancer. Enjoy the sun safely by seeking shade between 11am and 3pm, wearing a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses, and using 15+ SPF sun cream.

Take up screening invitations

Screening can detect certain cancers before you have any symptoms. Finding cancers early gives treatment the best chance of success. In Northern Ireland, the Public Health Agency runs screening programmes for breast, cervical and bowel cancer.

Useful resources

Prostate Cancer UK launched a campaign to encourage men at higher risk of prostate cancer...

Articles & Videos

Helplines & Web Chats

Marie Curie - Helpline
Cancer Research UK - Helpline
Bowel Cancer UK - Forum
Bowel Cancer UK - Ask a Nurse
Macmillan Helpline
Cancer Focus - Nurse Line
Macmillan - Forum
Prostate Cancer UK - Forum
Macmillan - Ask an expert
Prostate Cancer UK - Specialist Nurse
Macmillan - Bereavement Forum