Cancer: Your ultimate guide

Cancer is the umbrella term given to a group of more than 200 diseases that are caused when abnormal cells divide and multiply in an uncontrolled way, causing damage to normal tissues.

6 crucial changes to reduce your cancer risk

You can reduce your risk of getting cancer by leading a balanced, healthy lifestyle. Make these essential changes today.

  • 1. You are what you eat

    The Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) recommends a balanced diet made up of 45 to 65% carbohydrates, 20 to 35% fat and 10 to 35% protein.

    This diet should largely comprise fresh seasonal fruit and vegetables, unrefined grains, legumes, fish, low fat dairy products and lean meats.

  • 2. 4 dietary rules to live by…

    1: Eat at least five portions of fresh fruit and vegetables every day, as evidence shows that it lowers the risk of cancers of the stomach, oesophagus, lung, oral cavity, pharynx, endometrium, pancreas and colon. Try to consume a variety of colours to make sure you're getting all the vital antioxidants.

    2: Eat more fibre. Bowel cancer has been found to be less common in countries with traditionally high-fibre diets.

    3: Reduce your intake of red and processed meats. Both have been linked to colon cancer.

    4: Avoid transfats, which contain “bad” cholesterol and are found in processed and fast food. They have been associated with an increased risk of breast and prostate cancers.

  • 3. Stop smoking and moderate your drinking

    If you’re a smoker, stop. Smoking has been linked to many cancers including lung, throat, mouth, tongue, pancreas, bladder, cervix, kidney, and stomach.

    Drinking alcohol is acceptable, but only if you do so in moderation (not more than one standard drink per day for women and two for men). Drinking more than this increases your risk for cancer of the breast, colon, lung, kidney and liver.

  • 4. Practise safe sex

    Your sex life may also affect your cancer risk profile. Engaging in risky sexual practices – such as having multiple partners and not using protection – increases the likelihood of you contracting the human papillomavirus (HPV), which increases your risk for cancer of the cervix, anus, penis, throat, vulva and vagina.

  • 5. Get exercising

    According to Professor Michael Herbst of CANSA, an increasing number of studies are showing that physical activity – 45 to 60 minutes at least five days a week – can help reduce the risk of breast and colon cancer.

    In addition to helping you maintain a healthy weight (also a key protective measure), physical activity also reduces stress and improves overall health. If you've been inactive for a while, start off with some brisk walking or yoga.

  • 6. Get tested

    "Regular self-exams and professional screening for various types of cancers – such as cancer of the skin, colon, prostate, cervix and breast – can increase the chances of discovering cancer early, when treatment is likely to be successful," says CANSA's Professor Herbst.

    Speak to your doctor about which tests you need – and which exams you can do yourself – and then make a note of them in your diary.

  • 7. Be sun smart

    Skin cancer is one of the most common – and preventable – forms of cancer in South Africa. Protecting yourself just takes a bit of planning and preparation:

    • Stay out of the sun from 11am to 3pm
    • Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen (with a SPF specific to your skin type) liberally and often
    • Wear sunglasses with UVA/UVB protection
    • Wear a broad-brimmed hat
    • Avoid tanning beds