Half a million Germans are diagnosed with cancer every year. Many cases could be avoided – through appropriate behavior in advance. What are the modifiable cancer risk factors and how to eliminate them.

More than half a million people in Germany were confronted with the diagnosis of “cancer” in 2020, and more than 200,000 are currently dying from cancer each year. Cancer is therefore still a shock diagnosis, even if cancer therapies are becoming more and more successful. Almost half of all cancers could be avoided through simple prevention.

Cancer and prevention researchers have developed the recipe for this. It forms the basis of the recommendations of the European Code of Conduct to Combat Cancer, which has reduced concentrated expert knowledge to a few common denominators and is recommended by the German Cancer Society, the German Cancer Research Center, the German Cancer Aid and the Cancer Information Service. These measures include:

Obesity is involved in the development of many diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke and heart attack – but also cancer. The risk of developing cancer is massively increased by being overweight. This has now been established for at least 13 types of cancer.

Above all, particularly common forms of cancer such as colon cancer, kidney cancer, pancreatic cancer and esophageal cancer, in women also breast, endometrial and ovarian cancer, in men prostate cancer, are associated with obesity. The risk of comorbidities and cancer increases from a BMI of equal to/over 25 (slightly increased) up to a BMI of over 40 at a very high risk.

The connection between being overweight and comorbidities can be explained by the activities of the adipose tissue, such as the promotion of inflammation and hormone imbalance. The waist circumference is also an important parameter for risky body fat. It is best not to let obesity develop in the first place, or to slowly reduce what you already have, only works in the long term with two measures: the right diet and exercise, points 2 and 3 of the anti-cancer agenda.

Sitting for a long time makes you ill, but exercise makes you fit and healthy, according to the simple equation. If you keep moving, you can not only maintain your weight or even lose it. The reason why exercise can specifically protect against cancer: Physical activity supports tumor suppressor genes that can slow down cancer cells.

Exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of the following types of cancer:

Sitting for long periods of time, on the other hand, increases the risk of colon cancer, uterine cancer and lung cancer, among other things.

Krebs ignores excuses such as “jogging is not possible because of the joints”, “cannot swim because the preparation and follow-up work is too time-consuming”. In the end it doesn’t depend on the sport. Any form of exercise can protect against cancer and other diseases – whether you dance, go for brisk walks, Nordic walking, sweat in the studio, use the home trainer or do a daily gymnastics session.

Half an hour a day makes sense. And: Build exercise into your everyday life: Climb stairs instead of walking or cycling to the shops by car, sitting for hours and staring at the monitor, break at least once an hour and move around a bit.

Autumn time is cold season. But with a few very easy tricks, you can strengthen your immune system and prevent a sore throat and cold.

The anti-cancer diet with 100 percent protection does not exist, but there are a number of scientifically proven tips for healthy eating that reduce the risk of disease. You should avoid foods that have been shown to promote cancer such as

If you also reduce your sugar consumption, you can reduce obesity and reduce the risk of cancer.

On the other hand, there are many foods that can slow down the growth of cancer cells, such as fiber. Fruit and vegetables not only provide roughage, but also a number of effective vitamins, antioxidants and other vital substances in an ideal combination, which can also protect against diseases such as cancer.

It is therefore recommended to eat at least 400 grams of fruit and vegetables per day, as well as 30 grams of dietary fiber, such as from whole grain products and legumes.

These three first points – reducing excess weight, ensuring exercise and a healthy diet – are particularly important for cancer prevention. Together they determine the lifestyle and thus to a certain extent also the cancer risk.

It’s a fact: around 19 percent of all new cancer cases can be traced back to smoking. Smokers die from cancer twice as often as non-smokers, warns the German Cancer Society. Not only tobacco already contains carcinogenic substances, especially the smoke that is produced when it is burned is harmful to health. Because substances are inhaled with it, which perfidiously change our genetic material in the cells, the DNA. The cells mutate and cancer can develop. Because tobacco smoke is so extremely dangerous, passive smoking can also make you sick.

The most well-known cancer associated with smoking is lung cancer, but there are also a number of other cancers caused by smoking, such as cancer of the mouth, larynx, oesophagus, stomach, pancreas, bladder and kidney.

If you are a smoker, stop this habit as soon as possible. The German Cancer Research Center offers an overview of various smoking cessation programs.

By the way: Your risk of lung cancer falls by half after five years without smoking. Also, make sure you live in a smoke-free environment.

Potable alcohol, i.e. the form of alcohol in beer, wine, sparkling wine and schnapps, is ethanol. Ethanol is broken down in the body via acetaldehyde. Both – ethanol and acetaldehyde – are carcinogenic. Increased alcohol consumption can cause cancer of the mouth and throat, but also cancer of the digestive tract and breast cancer in women. Doctors speak of increased alcohol consumption from a quantity of more than 10 grams of alcohol for women and 20 grams of alcohol for men per day. 10 grams of alcohol is the amount in a glass of beer, wine or schnapps, i.e. a drink.

But even this small dose, if the body is expected to take it every day, increases the risk of esophageal cancer by almost a third and that of mouth and throat cancer by 20 percent. And those who regularly have four or more drinks, for example, have five times the risk of developing cancer compared to people who don’t drink alcohol at all.

So the best thing to do is avoid alcohol altogether, or at least skip it a few days a week and have just one drink the rest of the days.

There are many pollutants in our environment that are carcinogenic. In the air, these are, for example, fine dust and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Particulate matter in exhaust gases is the focus. A current study by the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) shows that particulate matter is not only harmful because its tiny parts can penetrate particularly deeply into the lung tissue. The researchers discovered that these particles can form oxygen radicals (reactive oxygen compounds, ROS for short). They also attack the lung cells and can damage their DNA – this is reminiscent of point 4 and how inhaling cigarette smoke changes lung cells.

Avoiding fine dust pollution as much as possible, for example not jogging on busy streets or strolling along with the stroller, are just two of the simple, obvious tips for protection. The current air quality index in the individual regions of Germany can be found in detail at the Federal Environment Agency.

Last but not least, there are areas in Germany where radon levels are high. Radon is an inert gas that comes from underground containing uranium and can flow into the basement and ground floor. If it gets into the air, it breaks down into radioactive particles. Like other airborne pollutants, these can lead to lung cancer when inhaled. You can find out how high the radon risk is in your area from the Federal Office for Radiation Protection on the “Radon concentration in the soil” map.

Food, everyday objects and cosmetics can also contain carcinogenic substances, albeit in small amounts. And some workplaces are exposed to carcinogenic substances and radiation. Here, legal protective measures are intended to protect employees from damage to their health – provided they are observed. The German Cancer Society offers an overview of the many cancer-causing substances in everyday life.

Sunburn is part of every summer – and a tan is beautiful? These beliefs have long since been refuted. On the contrary: sunburn is the cause of a number of types of cancer, especially skin cancer, which can even affect the eye:

Contrary to previous opinion, each of the three types of UV radiation is carcinogenic, i.e. UV-A, UV-B and UV-C. Artificial light in solariums can also promote cancer. Like other carcinogenic substances and rays, UV light damages the DNA of cells, in this case the skin cells. They can change and become malicious. This risk is particularly pronounced in children and fair-skinned people. What is still not sufficiently considered: Children under the age of two should therefore not be exposed to direct sunlight at all.

Being tanned is not a beauty ideal, but a health risk – and incidentally also causes the skin to age prematurely, i.e. makes it wrinkled.

It is very easy to protect yourself against UV light: there are sun protection products for every skin type and need. Use them even when the sky is overcast if you are going to be outdoors for a long time. Please also note the current UV index. This is the measure of UV radiation from when there is a risk of sunburn. The Federal Office for Radiation Protection offers up-to-date information on this.

However, UV-A and UV-B radiation are important for the skin to form vitamin D. However, long sunbathing is not necessary: ​​In spring and summer, 10 to 15 minutes outdoors are enough – without covering your face, arms and legs, as the German Cancer Aid advises.

Cancer is not contagious. However, some forms of cancer can arise from infections. Vaccination in good time can prevent these fatal consequences.

Two vaccinations in particular are important in this context:

1. Vaccination against hepatitis B for infants. Infection with hepatitis B virus increases the risk of liver inflammation, which in turn can result in liver cancer. Hepatitis B is the main risk factor for liver cancer.

2. Have girls and boys between the ages of 9 and 14 vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV), i.e. safe before the first sexual contact. HP viruses are sexually transmitted and lead to skin changes in the genital and anal areas, which are often hardly noticed because the infection is mild. Nevertheless, certain HP viruses (HPV-16 and HPV-18) can cause malignant changes after many years.

Depending on the sex practice, they can lead to the following cancers:

Very few types of cancer develop overnight and can only be recognized at an advanced stage. In most cases, there are preliminary stages that can often be removed as part of the preventive check-up – and the cancer can therefore not develop further in the first place. The best example of this is the early detection of colon cancer by colonoscopy. If there are polyps, which can sometimes become malignant, they can be easily removed during the examination.

The following early detection examinations are offered in Germany:

In addition, you should use the self-examination. Regularly and starting at a young age, you will get to know your body and later, if changes occur, you will quickly register them. Women should check their breasts and armpits for changes at least once a month, and the same applies to men for their testicles. Skin changes can also be detected early if the complexion is familiar.