Breakthrough Cancer Research is calling on the public to make small changes in their lifestyle to help dramatically reduce their cancer risk.

The ‘My Small Change’ campaign, launched today by Breakthrough Cancer Research (Breakthrough) in the run up to World Cancer Day on Saturday, 4th February, aims to highlight evidence-based information about how eight small lifestyle changes can make a big difference to our cancer risk. While it is well known that giving up smoking and being sun smart can help prevent cancer, Breakthrough want to highlight that many small lifestyle changes in our nutrition and physical activity can also help lower our risk of developing cancer, with up to a third of cancers are preventable through diet and lifestyle changes (1). During February, Cancer Prevention month, Breakthrough want people across Ireland to commit to one small change they can make to help lower their cancer risk. They can join many others, who this month will publically commit to making one small change in their lifestyle and share it on social media with the hashtag #MySmallChange.

Orla Dolan, Fundraising Director at Breakthrough states: “Every January lots of us embark on drastic changes and resolutions which inevitably fall by the wayside in just a few weeks. But what we don’t realise, is that there are some small changes we can all make which can dramatically lower our own cancer risk.  Research has shown that small changes in our diet and lifestyle can have a great effect and they are not drastic changes.  Rather they are simple changes in what we eat and how much we move which have been shown to lower the risk of developing cancer.  With so much misinformation we want this campaign to share the evidence-based information so the public can make informed decisions for both themselves and for their families which can have a direct impact on their cancer risk. And the research, led by the World Cancer Research Fund shows, the more small steps we take, the greater the impact.”

The Eight Key Recommendations from the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) are:
(1)   Be as lean as possible without becoming underweight
(2)   Be physically active for at least 30 minutes every day
(3)   Limit consumption of high-calorie foods and avoid sugary drinks
(4)   Eat more grains, vegetables, fruit and beans
(5)   Limit consumption of red meats and avoid processed meats
(6)   Limit alcohol consumption
(7)   Limit consumption of salty foods and foods processed with salt
(8)   For cancer prevention, don’t rely on supplements

Dr Aoife Ryan, Dietitian and Lecturer in Nutritional Sciences in University College Cork and Principal Investigator with Breakthrough states: “We can help prevent cancer by knowing what causes it. Through scientific research, we know that our risk of developing cancer depends on a combination of our genes, our environment and aspects of our lifestyle. We have control over many of these factors and, in some instances, can directly alter our chances of developing cancer. Cancer is caused by damage to our DNA, the chemical instructions that tell our cells what to do. Things in our environment, such as our lifestyle, can damage our DNA.”

With over 37,600 new cases of cancer diagnosed in Ireland every year, lifestyle changes have been proven to make a difference (2). A 2012 EPIC Study found adherence to the WCRF recommendations for cancer prevention is associated with decreased risk of cancer (3).

Dr Ryan continues: “Cancer is often thought to be a mainly inherited disease, but only 5-10% of cancers are due to inherited genes. Some people have an inborn high vulnerability to specific cancers. However, in the greater majority of cases, such susceptibility only leads to actual disease when driven by external factors, such as excess body fat. Diet and lifestyle, including smoking, account for 90-95% of cancers. Living a healthy lifestyle does not guarantee that you will not develop cancer, but it can greatly reduce your risk.”

Breakthrough has also launched a video about Cancer Prevention for people to watch and share to learn more about how they can lower their cancer risk. The video can be viewed at

(1) The Second Expert Report: Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective. Washington, DC: American Institute for Cancer Research, 2007.
(2) National Cancer Registry (2016) Cancer in Ireland 1994-2014: Annual Report of the National Cancer Registry. NCR, Cork, Ireland.
(3) Romaguera et al, (2012) ‘Is concordance with World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research guidelines for cancer prevention related to subsequent risk of cancer? Results from the EPIC study.’ Am J Clin Nutr; 2012; 96(1): 150-163