Smoking is by far the biggest preventable cause of cancer. Smoking accounts for more than 1 in 4 UK cancer deaths, and nearly a fifth of all cancer cases. Giving up smoking is the single biggest thing you can do to reduce your cancer risk.
Evidence suggests that getting support to quit will make it easier to stay smokefree. Find out more about local stop smoking clinics.
The more cigarettes you smoke a day, the higher your risk of cancer. If you aren't able to quit completely, cutting down the number of cigarettes you smoke a day can be a good first step. Even light or social smoking can harm your health so keep trying to stop entirely.
The serious damaging effects of smoking can't be cancelled out by leading an otherwise healthy lifestyle, like keeping fit and eating healthily. The best way to reduce your risk is to give up smoking completely.
Tobacco can be used in many different forms – including cigarettes, roll-ups, pipes, cigars, shisha, and bidis - but all are linked to cancer. There is no safe way to use tobacco.
Facts about shisha - shisha smokers still inhale toxic cancer-causing chemicals and addictive nicotine. Unlike cigarettes, shisha is burnt using charcoal so users can also be exposed to dangerously high levels of the poisonous gas carbon monoxide. Levels of carbon monoxide in the body from smoking shisha can be up to 17 times higher than from cigarettes and can cause carbon monoxide poisoning.
#smallchanges tips on becoming smokefree
- Make a plan to quit – set a date and stick to it
- Think about your routines and how you could alter those to curb the cravings – do you always have a cigarette after a meal – why not do something else straight after instead – do the dishes, make a phone call, go for a walk, playing a family game – to break the habit
- Seek out support at a local stop smoking clinic – evidence shows you are more likely to quit and quit for good with the expert support
- Encourage your partner or friend to go smokefree with you – you are more likely to do it together
- Put money you would have spent on cigarettes into a jar and treat yourself – it will soon mount up!
- Make a list of reasons to quit and read it when you feel the urge to light up
A healthy diet can reduce your risk of cancer, particularly bowel cancer. 1 in 20 cancers in the UK are linked to weight. A healthy diet can also lower your risk of other health problems, such as heart disease and diabetes.
Limiting how much salt, red meat and processed meat you eat is important. Processed meats are meats that have had preservatives added to them, or that have been preserved by salting, curing or smoking. They include sausages, ham and burgers.
#smallchanges tips on keeping a healthy weight
- Limit red or processed meats to just a couple of times a week
- Keep a food diary to track what you are eating – use a free app like myfitnesspal to help you
- Have fun trying out new recipes with lots of fish, turkey and chicken or go meat-free – with veggie dishes or meat free alternatives (e.g. Quorn)
- Make yourself a meal plan and plan your food shop around this – you're much less likely to buy treats!
- Cut back on treats and takeaways
- Make a homemade alternative to your favourite takeaway and cook it together as a couple or a family
- Drink more water each day
- Eat less salt
Eating lots of fruits and vegetables has been linked to a lower risk of certain cancers. Fruit and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet and are an excellent source of many vitamins and minerals, as well as fibre. Fruits and vegetables can also help you keep a healthy weight as they are relatively low in calories.
#smallchanges tips on getting your 5-a-day
- Aim to add at least one more portion to what you are having now
- Add fruit to your porridge or cereal
- Add extra beans, mushrooms or chopped peppers to sauces and casseroles
The less alcohol you drink, the lower the risk of cancer. No type of alcohol is better or worse than another, regardless of whether it is in wine, beer or spirits. Drinking and smoking together are even worse for you.
#smallchanges tips to drink less alcohol
- Have more alcohol-free days a week
- Try agreeing on certain days with your partner or a friend and help each other to stick to it
- If you do drink, swap every other alcoholic drink for a soft one – starting with your first drink
- Look at low alcohol alternatives like swapping a pint of cider for a single spirit and mixer or a mocktail
Overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun or sunbeds is the main cause of skin cancer. In the UK more than 8 in 10 cases of melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, could be prevented by enjoying the sun safely and avoiding using sunbeds.
#smallchanges tips to be sunsmart
- Use sun cream with a protection level of at least SPF15 and 4 stars
- Spend some time in the shade
- Keep your eyes protected with sunglasses and wear a hat
- Stay away from the sunbeds
Regular physical activity, in addition to helping to maintain a healthy weight (another key cancer prevention factor) has been linked to improving hormone levels and ensuring the body functions to prevent certain types of cancer.
#smallchanges tips to move more
- Anything counts as exercise if you're up and moving about (and if you get a bit warmer and slightly out of breath then it's even better!):
- Having a good old boogie to your favourite song
- Playing football with the kids
- Going for a walk
- Star jumps in front of the TV during the ad breaks
- Try and add in what you can every day
Change4Life gives you lots of hints and tips about how you and your family can be healthier and happier.
The NHS How Are You quiz will give you a personalised health score and advice about changes you can make to your lifestyle to improve your health.