Risk and protective factors

While different kinds of cancer have different risk factors, there are a number of risk and protective factors that are common to most cancers [26088]. Risk and protective factors include genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors. While genetic factors cannot be changed, those relating to behaviour and lifestyle can be altered to reduce the risk of people getting cancer. To help protect against getting cancer, people should:

  • not smoke tobacco
  • drink alcohol in moderation
  • have a healthy diet that is high in fibre, fresh fruit and vegetables, and low in fat
  • be physically active
  • maintain a healthy bodyweight.

Cancer is associated with chronic infections like hepatitis B, and human papilloma virus (HPV), conditions that are more common among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people [26088]. Treating these infectious conditions may lower the risk of associated cancers. It is also important for people to participate in screening programs.

Environmental factors are thought to be associated with around three-quarters of all cancers [26088]. These include:

  • chemicals
  • diet
  • radiation.

Importantly, some people with one or more risk factors may never develop a cancer, and other people who do develop cancer have no apparent risk factors. Even when a person who has a risk factor is diagnosed with cancer, there is no way to prove that the risk factor actually caused the cancer.


Key resources



Karnta by Corinne Nampijinpa Ryan

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