Richard Fecteau

By Richard Fecteau

September 17, 2018


Prevention: the best way to reduce your risk of cancer!

Article revised on 26 October 2018

Cancer is the leading cause of death in Canada. Half of all Canadians will develop cancer in their lifetime, and one-quarter of Canadians are expected to die of the disease.1 Cancer is the most frequent chronic disease in Canada. While a person may feel overwhelmed by this illness, we are not completely at its mercy…

Every hour, 9 people die of cancer in Canada.1 Canadian males are more likely to develop prostate cancer than any other, whereas Canadian females are more likely to develop breast cancer than any other.

Prostate, breast and colorectal cancer account for almost 50% of all cancers diagnosed in Canada.1

Primary prevention, i.e. Activities that focus on reducing or slowing cancer risk factors, is a real and effective way of reducing a person’s risks of developing cancer. In fact, half of all cancers in Canada could be prevented through healthier lifestyles.2

Lifestyle habits for cancer prevention

Tobacco use

Smoking is the worst lifestyle habit, because it is the one that most affects a person’s likelihood of developing cancer. Tobacco use apparently accounts for about 30% of all cancer occurrences and deaths.2 Smoking has a strong impact on the development of lung cancer: a smoker is about 20 times more likely to develop lung cancer than a non-smoker.3

Second-hand smoke also increases a person’s risk of developing cancer. Every year in Canada alone, second-hand smoke causes 800 deaths in non-smokers.4

Quitting smoking is a long process that requires strong willpower and patience. To set yourself up for success, consult your physician to learn more about the various smoking cessation methods available.

Prevent cancer through a healthy diet

Poor eating habits appear to account for just under 30% of all cancers in developed countries, such as Canada.2

The following diet-related factors increase a person’s risk of developing cancer:2

  • High consumption of red meat (more than 3 servings per week)
  • Consumption of processed (deli) meat
  • High consumption of trans and saturated fats

On the other hand, the following diet-related factors decrease a person’s risk of developing cancer:2

  • Consumption of at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily
  • High consumption of fibre

Physical activity : a great cancer prevention ally! 

The risk of developing cancer can be reduced by 20 – 40%, depending on the type of cancer,2 by engaging in regular physical activity, consisting of at least 150 minutes of aerobic fitness and muscle strengthening activities, at least two days per week, as recommended by Canada’s Physical Activity Guidelines.4 Regular physical activity is particularly beneficial in reducing the occurrence of colorectal, breast, uterine and prostate cancers.2

Alcohol consumption

The consumption of more than two alcoholic beverages per day for women and three per day for men increases the risk of developing cancer.5 When more than that amount is consumed, the risk increases in proportion to the amount of alcohol consumed. Heavy alcohol consumption on a regular basis will, among other things, increase the risks of developing liver, colorectal and/or stomach cancer.2

Limit your alcohol consumption to no more than 10 drinks per week, if you’re a woman, or to 15 per week, if you’re a man. Also make sure there’s at least one day during the week that you don’t drink.5

Sun exposure

Unprotected exposure to the sun and its ultraviolet (UV) rays greatly increases the risks of developing skin cancer. You are at particular risk if you have fair to light skin colour, red or blonde hair, lighter eye colour (blue or green), freckled skin and/or a family history of skin cancer.2

During exposure to the skin, using sunscreen, wearing a wide-brimmed hat and avoiding tanning salons are all precautions that you should take to reduce your risk of developing skin cancer.

A first step to preventing cancer

Here’s a useful tool that you can use to calculate your risks of developing cancer and reduce these risks. Go ahead and use it, it’ll be a few well-invested minutes, I promise you!



1 – 2017 Canadian Cancer Statistics

2 – Progress Report on Cancer Control in Canada

3 – Canadian Cancer Society

4 – Government of Canada

5 – Éduc’alcool 

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