Risk Factors

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Things that increase the risk of developing cancer are called 'risk factors'. There are some risk factors that you cannot change or control, such as getting older or having a family history of certain cancers.

Having a risk factor does not mean you will develop cancer or other health conditions, it just increases your chances. You may have no risk factors and still develop cancer.


Family History

The information provided in this section should not be used for individual medical advice. If you have any concerns regarding your family history of cancer, please discuss this with your doctor.

With cancer affecting almost one in two Australians before the age of 85, it is common to have several family members affected by the disease. This can lead to some people believing they have had cancer genes passed on through the family.

However, only a small number of cancer cases are caused by inherited genetic factors where a faulty gene is passed on from a parent to their child. Many cancers are not due to known lifestyle factors or genetic factors.

Cancer genes that can be inherited include melanoma, bowel, breast, ovarian and prostate cancer.

When determining whether you have a family history of a particular cancer, your doctor will consider:

  • the number of immediate relatives (e.g. parents, siblings) who have had cancer
  • the age at which your family members were diagnosed, and
  • the type of cancer and those affected within the family.


How to reduce your risk

While the risk of cancer cannot be eliminated, you can reduce your risk by:

  • eating a healthy diet
  • maintaining a healthy body weight
  • exercising regularly, and
  • choosing not to smoke or quitting smoking.

Additionally, finding cancer before it begins to spread means that treatment is more likely to be successful. 

Find out more about the prevention, screening and early detection of cancer to see what you can do to reduce your risk.