Cancer risk factors

Our analysis of global research shows that about a third of the most common cancers can be prevented through diet, maintaining a healthy weight and taking regular physical activity.

What are the links between lifestyle and cancer risk?

Being overweight or obese increases the risk of 11 types of cancer.

Drinking alcohol increases the risk of six cancers, including colorectal (bowel) and breast.

Eating food that is high in fat or sugar can make you gain weight, and there is strong evidence that being overweight or obese increases the risk of 11 cancers. However, diets that are high in plant foods may protect against certain cancers. 

Eating too much red meat and any processed meat increases cancer risk. 

We have strong evidence that being active (moderate and vigorous exercise) reduces the risk of three cancers: colorectal, breast (post-menopausal) and womb. We have strong evidence that being vigorously physically active reduces the risk of pre-menopausal breast cancer.

Foods preserved with salt have been linked to an increased risk of stomach cancer.

Tobacco is the biggest cause of cancer around the world.

Sunbeds, sunbathing and too much exposure to sunlight can cause cancer. 

Almost a fifth of cancers globally are caused by infections.

HRT and hormonal contraception have been linked with certain cancers.

Only about five to ten per cent of all cancers result from specific inherited genes.  

We assess the risk of mobile phones, X-rays, microwaves and other types of radiation.

We explore the rumours, fiction, media reports and urban legends about whether everyday products increase cancer risk. 

Our Continuous Update Project

We have created a report summarising all the strong evidence from our Continuous Update Project (CUP) – our ongoing programme to analyse global research on how diet, weight, and physical activity affect cancer risk and survival. 

This CUP Summary report is updated with the latest findings each time a new report is published.

The CUP underpins current guidelines on public health policy and cancer prevention around the world – and our cancer prevention recommendations

You can download the CUP Summary report as a PDF.