Anyone can develop cancer, but some people are at higher risk due to behavioural or environmental factors (those who smoke tobacco, drink alcohol, are overweight or obese, have an unhealthy diet, have a sedentary lifestyle, or are exposed to certain infections, radiation, or chemicals that cause cancer). A few people are born with a high inherited risk of cancer.
The European Code Against Cancer explains what people can do for themselves and their families to reduce their risk of developing or suffering from cancer. These recommendations are based on the best available scientific evidence.
Many of the factors that can increase or decrease the risk of cancer are well known. However, for most types of cancer it is not possible to predict which people with similar risk factors will develop cancer, and which will not.
Smoking is well known to cause the vast majority of lung cancer cases. For other common cancers (e.g. bowel cancer or breast cancer), only about half of the cases can be explained by known causes, and for some cancers (e.g. prostate cancer), even less.
Although you can reduce your risk of developing cancer, there will always be some risk. About one half of all cancers could be avoided if everyone followed all the recommendations in the European Code Against Cancer.
The commonest cancers tend to occur after middle age, but it is never too early or too late to start taking action to prevent cancer. Some recommendations apply to children, to reduce their risk of developing cancer when they are older. Adopting healthy habits and avoiding unhealthy ones is beneficial at any age.
Screening can detect certain cancers at an early stage, when treatment is more effective. For some cancers, there are also precancerous stages that can be detected through screening and treated to prevent cancer developing. The European Code Against Cancer recommends those screening programmes that are known to be effective.
Vaccination against certain viruses can reduce the risk of liver cancer and cervical cancer.
Behaviours that protect against cancer also protect against the other major causes of death and disability in the European Union, such as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and diabetes.