2018 marks a significant year for West Aussies as Cancer Council WA turns 60! For six decades, we have been working together to reduce the incidence of cancer in Western Australia and providing direct assistance to those affected by cancer.
We have also been supporting cancer research and have seen some wonderful advances in treatment. 60 years ago, the chance of surviving a cancer diagnosis was around 30 to 40 per cent. Today, survival rates for the most common cancers are more than 90 per cent, and the overall five-year survival rate for those diagnosed with cancer is around 60 per cent.
Up to a third of all cancers can be prevented with a healthy lifestyle - it is this fact that drives our work in advocacy, education and prevention.
The seven healthy lifestyle messages that underpin our prevention work are nothing new, but you might be surprised at how far we've come in the last 60 years.
These seven simple lifestyle changes can have a profound impact no matter your age.
1. Be SunSmart
Around 95 per cent of skin cancers are caused by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation and are preventable; yet two out of three Australians will develop skin cancer by the age of 70. Sun exposure during childhood and adolescence greatly increases our lifetime risk of skin cancer. The ‘Slip Slop Slap' (Seek Slide) campaign launched in the 1980s still forms the basis of what we do.
The good news is that skin cancer rates in young Australians are falling - melanoma rates have halved since 2000. Most WA child care settings and primary schools have policies and practices in place to reduce UV exposure. Big improvements are still needed in high schools, where sun protection is not up to scratch.
There are currently over 300 schools who are officially SunSmart, with many other schools having great sun protection practices in place. Our SunSmart team supports all schools to improve sun protection. Visit www.generationsunsmart.com.au for more information.
2. Eat for health
The evidence is not entirely conclusive but many links have been found to show that a healthy diet reduces cancer risk and is also beneficial for people who have had cancer. There is probable evidence that fruit and vegetables reduce cancer risk, as well as other chronic diseases. So, we want WA kids to eat more fruit and vegetables!
Fruit consumption is really good with 89 per cent of kids eating at least two serves every day. But a worrying 83 per cent of kids are not eating the recommended four daily serves of vegetables! These figures have remained pretty stable over the past 10 years.
From its humble beginnings as a pilot project in Albany in 1999, Crunch&Sip now supports 427 primary schools across WA to eat vegetables and fruit and drink water in the classroom. The program sets clear boundaries on what foods are allowed and parents and students know that they need to pack Crunch&Sip in the school bag every day. Visit www.crunchandsip.com.au for more information.
3. Stay in shape
Our message is to avoid weight gain, not only to decrease the risk of bowel, breast, and some other cancers, but also to reduce other impacts (e.g. type 2 diabetes and constipation). A child carrying too much weight is likely to hold on to this extra body fat as they enter adulthood.
In 1995, the rate of overweight and obesity in Western Australians aged 5 to 17 years was around 21 per cent.This statistic has stabilised, with nearly one quarter of kids currently outside of the healthy weight range. Cancer Council WA would like to see these figures decrease, and we are working to reverse obesity-promoting environments. To support this, the Crunch&Sip program will be offering free parent nutrition talks in WA schools in 2019. Watch this space!
4. Move your body
It's been said time and time again: being physically active is good for you. Active people are happier and healthier. Regular activity is protective against type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and cancer as well as other chronic health conditions like kidney disease and depression.
The current Australian guidelines require children aged 5 to 15 years complete at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each day to achieve good health. However, the latest WA data shows that only 40 per cent of WA kids meet the guidelines.
What's worse is that this figure is dropping - 46 per cent of WA kids met the guidelines in 2006. The good news is that the proportion of adults meeting sufficient levels of physical activity has risen to just under one-third, but there is still room for improvement.
Tip for your school: swap your ‘no hat no play' rule for ‘No Hat? Play in the shade'. Get kids active while being SunSmart, instead of excluding them from play or physical activity for not having a hat. Contact us if you need some advice on how to do this.
5. Quit Smoking
Tobacco smoking is the largest preventable cause of death and disease in Western Australia. Children in households with a smoker are more likely to smoke in the future. A lot has been achieved in smoking cessation, with 45 per cent of West Aussie adults being smokers in the 1960's and only 11 per cent of West Aussie adults smoking today. 99 per cent of WA kids aged 0 to 15 are in smoke-free homes.
The Make Smoking History campaign works to reduce smoking among adults in WA even further, and in turn prevent uptake of smoking among young people. The campaign also works to reduce the health and financial inequalities caused by smoking by supporting at-risk groups to quit.
6. Avoid alcohol
Alcohol has been classified as a Group 1 carcinogen. This means that drinking alcohol causes cancer. When it comes to cancer risk, there is no safe level of alcohol consumption. Even small amounts of alcohol increase your risk of cancer.
It is estimated that 3,200 cases of cancer in Australia each year (or about 3 per cent of all cancers) are due to alcohol consumption. The good news is that the number of young people under the age of 18 who drink alcohol is declining.
7. Look after number one
One of the best ways to reduce your risk of developing cancer is through participation in routine screening. Although you can look out for symptoms, many cancers at early stages develop in people with no symptoms and no family history. It is therefore highly recommended to participate in the national cancer screening programs for early detection of cancer, resulting in better treatment outcomes.
Australia's three national cancer screening programs, the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, BreastScreen Australia, and the National Cervical Screening Program, have had a major impact in early intervention and reducing cancer related deaths.
For example, since the introduction of the National Cervical Screening Program in 1991, the incidence and deaths by cervical cancer has more than halved. It is expected that cervical cancer rates will continue to decline with the impact of human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination and screening.
Every minute, every hour, every day we're getting closer to a time when cancer is no longer something to fear, and that's something to be incredibly proud of - thank you!
This article was originally written for our Healthy School Newsletter. Read the full newsletter online.