Cancer is the second leading cause of death on the island of Ireland. It is estimated that about one third of cancers could be prevented by eating a healthy diet, being physically active and maintaining a healthy weight.

What is cancer?

Cancer is a group of more than 100 diseases that is caused by uncontrolled and abnormal changes in how the body’s cells grow. About 5 to 10% of cancers are inherited from family members but most cancers result from damage to the body’s cells. This damage can occur over time and it can be due to internal factors within the body or external environmental factors. Food, nutrition and physical health are important environmental factors that can influence the risk of cancer.

Common types of cancer amongst people living on the Island of Ireland include:

  • Prostate
  • Breast
  • Colorectal
  • Skin (non-melanoma)
  • Lung

Are some people more at risk than others?

You are more likely to develop cancer if you have certain risk factors. Some factors cannot be changed and are often called non-modifiable risk factors. These are:

  • Family history
  • Growing older

Other risk factors however can be changed. These are often called modifiable risk factors and include:

  • Smoking
  • Being overweight
  • Exposure to the sun for long periods of time or the use of sun beds
  • Having more than the recommended alcohol intake
  • Having a poor diet
  • Not being physically active

What can I do to lower my risk?

Keep to a healthy weight: By eating a healthy diet and being physically active. Measuring your BMI is a useful guide. Excess body fat increases the risk of bowel, oesophagus, pancreas, kidney, endometrial and breast (in postmenopausal women) cancer. 

Eat a healthy diet: Increase the amount of fibre in your diet - fibre can be found in wholemeal bread and pasta, oats, and fruit and vegetables. Fibre can decrease the risk of colon cancer,

Get your 5-a-day: Fruit and vegetables are high in dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals and low in energy therefore they promote healthy weight and protect against cancer.

Eat small amounts of red meat: Red meat is very nutritious as it has high iron content. Choose appropriate portion sizes of red meat 2-3 times per week.

Keep treats sensible: Avoid eating too many foods like sugary drinks, fast foods, sweets and cakes - they promote weight gain and have little nutritional content. 

Reduce salt: Reduce the amount of salt you eat to less than 6g per day. The best way to do this is to reduce the amount of processed foods you eat. Salt and salt-preserved foods, such as processed meats, are probably a cause of stomach cancer.

Limit alcohol: Men should aim for no more than two standard drinks per day and females no more than one standard drink per day, with some alcohol-free days (1 standard drink = 1/2 pint beer; a small glass of wine;1 pub measure of spirits.). Evidence suggests that alcohol can increase the risk of many types of cancer.

Don’t smoke

Keep active: To get health benefits you should do at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity at least five days a week. Evidence suggests physical activity can protect against bowel cancer, breast cancer in postmenopausal women and endometrial cancer.

Take care in the sun

You can reduce your risk further by having regular checkups with your GP.

For further information, contact your GP. In the Republic of Ireland, the Irish Cancer Society provides advice and support on cancer. In Northern Ireland, Cancer Focus NI, Action Cancer and Cancer Research UK provide similar services.

Advice and information on how to prevent cancer

Information for the Republic of Ireland

Information for Northern Ireland