Few things unite Australians like a shared hatred of the ‘Big C’. We might be polarised in our politics, worldviews or religious views, but when someone goes into remission from cancer, it is universally celebrated. And for good reason. Consider the following stats:

  • There were over 730,000 cancer diagnoses in 2022. That is almost 3% of Australians.
  • 30% of those people will not survive past fives years from their diagnosis

Understandably, this isn’t the kind of New Year’s cheer you might have been hoping for. However, it is important. If you tweak a few things in your lifestyle, you can delay or prevent these cancers altogether. Today, we examine the Big 5 cancers, how they work, and how to avoid them at all costs.

  1. Prostate Cancer

This is a strange cancer in many ways. A significant proportion of men will develop prostate cancer in their lives, but most will die with it, not from it. However, one in forty men will die of prostate cancer, so it is worth some time. Over time, cells in the prostate gland form a tumour which can spread uncontrollably through your body. Some things are beyond your control. Your race, age and genes play a significant role, but according to research from Johns Hopkins, there are things you can do as well.

  • Improve your diet: eat less fats, more fruit and veggies, and avoid charred meat
  • Break a sweat: exercise reduces inflammation and supports the immune function that fights cancer.
  • Get some beneficial Ds:  The sun is a free source of vitamin D, so aim for 10 minutes of direct sunlight a day. Alternatively, you can pick up a Vitamin D supplement from your pharmacy
  • Stay sexually active: This isn’t always a choice, but a higher frequency of ejaculation makes you two thirds as likely to develop prostate cancer.
  1. Breast Cancer

Again, if cells begin to grow abnormally, they can form a mass or a lump which can then metastasise throughout the breast and on to other parts of the body. If you get to it early, you have a 92% chance of surviving past five years. This makes regular breast examinations a must. If you have a partner who can do these semi-regularly, this can be a great way to detect changes and growth. There are a number of things you can do to:

  • Cut down on alcohol: There is a strong link between consumption of alcohol and breast cancer, so you should limit yourself to no more than one standard drink per day.
  • Lose those extra kegs: If you can cut down on the kilojoules and increase the amount of exercise you are doing every week, you are less likely to develop breast cancer. Try to get around 150 minutes per week in at least three separate instances.
  • Breastfeed: Strangely, women who spend longer breastfeeding are less likely to develop breast cancer

Some people get a bit anxious about the risk posed by various contraceptive options you might have got from the pharmacy. In reality, the risk is not greatly increased if you are on the pill. For every 8000 women who develop breast cancer, only one might be because of contraception, and the risk reduces once you stop taking the medicine.

  1. Melanoma

More commonly known as skin cancer, this kills over 7,500 Australians every year. The ultraviolet radiation emitted by the sun can cause your cells to mutate and begin growing abnormally. Often, these can be detected early and surgically removed. However, they can also be deep lying and spread through your bloodstream and lymphatic system. At this point, it is extremely dangerous. Prevention is always better than a cure, and here are a few things you can do to get on the front foot:

  • Slip on a long sleeved shirt whenever you are outside
  • Slop on some sunscreen. Ideally, you should be looking for SPF50. SPF stands for sun protection factor, and the number afterwards tells you the measure of how much radiation gets through. So, SPF30 allows one thirtieth to get through (blocking 96.7%) whereas SPF50 allows one fiftieth (blocking 90%). As you can see, this is a game changer. Make sure you reapply regularly.
  • Slap on a hat
  • Slide on some sunglasses.
  • Seek shade at every opportunity. 

Skin cancer is considered Australia’s national cancer, and we have had some phenomenal health campaigns to try and turn this tide. Our personal favourite is simple and true: There is nothing healthy about a tan.

  1. Colorectal cancer

This is not a super fun cancer. Most cancers start off as polyps around the colon or rectum, which then start to grow abnormally. It then spreads through your lymph nodes and, like melanoma, it then becomes very dangerous indeed. If you are finding blood in your stools, feeling bloated or gassy, you might want to consult a medical professional. In the meantime, here are some things you can do to reduce your risk. 

  • Increase your physical activity
  • Keep a healthy weight
  • Limit your alcohol consumption
  • Cut out smoking
  1. Lung cancer

This is particularly dangerous, as people who develop lung cancer only have a 22% chance of surviving beyond five years from their diagnosis. There are actually several easy things you can to do drastically reduce your risk:

  • Stop smoking
  • Stop smoking
  • Stop smoking
  • Ask people around you to stop smoking.

Research shows that you are 5 to 10 times more likely to develop lung cancer if you smoke regularly. So, the advice is pretty clear: you need to stop smoking ASAP. New Zealand are working to ban the sale of cigarettes entirely, and this is probably a sign of things to come. There are various products you can buy from a pharmacy which will help you kick the habit. Alternatively, you can call 13QUIT (13 7848) for targeted help and advice.

Hopefully, you have noticed that much of the advice across all five of these cancers is consistent. That means you don’t need to be spinning many plates to reduce your risk. You only need to commit to getting a few things right and the health benefits are exponential.


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