Prevention and risk factors

There's a lot you can do to prevent cancer. Here we present 12 tips to reduce cancer risk.

Updated 13.09.22.

Research has shown that cancer development is a combination of our own genes, environment and lifestyle. In other words, we are to some extent able to prevent cancer through our own behaviour.

Cancer is caused by a damage to the DNA in our cells. DNA tells what cells how to behave. Things in our environment can damage DNA, such as tobacco smoke or UV rays.

Our behaviour can also protect against DNA damage, and thus cancer development – such as by staying physically active.

You can read more about how cancer develops here.

Below you will find advice on how to prevent cancer.

4 out of 10 cancers can be prevented by cutting out smoking, keeping a healthy body weight and cutting down on alcohol use. 

Don't smoke and keep your home smoke-free

ikon ikkerøyk

  • Smoking is the leading cause of cancer in the world
  • Tobacco contains chemical substances, which when inhaled by tobacco smoke, pass into the bloodstream
  • Smoking is a known cause of cancer in over 15 different organs
  • Smokers have up to a 20 times higher risk of developing lung cancer
  • 430,000 cancer cases could be prevented in the Nordic countries by 2030 if we had eliminated tobacco
  • Quitting smoking has a great effect on the risk of developing cancer


Have a healthy body weight

  • Overweight and obesity increase the risk of developing cancer.
  • 13 cancers are linked to overweight and obesity. Among these, several of the most prevalent cancers in Norway; breast cancer after menopause, prostate and bowel cancer. This means that avoiding obesity will result in a significantly lower cancer risk.
  • Depending on the amount of overweight, cancer risk is from a few percent higher up to twice as high in a person with overweight or obesity, compared to a normal weight person. The size of the risk also varies between cancers.
  • In Norway, about 60% of women and men aged 50-70 years are either overweight or obese.
  • 205,000 cancer cases can be prevented in the Nordic countries by 2030 by eliminating overweight and obesity.

Be physically active

Ikon mannmedballivann

  • 30 minutes of moderate activity a day is recommended by health authorities
  • Being physically active helps you reduce various health problems and maintain a healthy body weight 
  • Being very physically active can prevent breast and bowel cancer

Eat healthy ikon eple med hjerte nederst til høyre

  • Diet according to the Norwegian dietary advice can prevent several chronic diseases, including cancer. Healthy eating also helps to keep a healthy body weight, which contributes to a low cancer risk. 
  • Diets that provide the lowest possible risk of bowel cancer contain plenty of fiber-containing foods and dairy products, and little or no processed and red meat.
  • A high intake of fruits and vegetables can reduce the risk of cancers of the mouth, throat, larynx and lung.
  • Be careful with supplements. Some supplements may increase the risk of cancer.


Limit your alcohol intakeIkon flaskeogglassadvarseltegn

  • Consumption of alcohol increases the risk of cancer in several organs, including the digestive organs and breasts.
  • Each increase of one unit of alcohol (10 grams of pure alcohol) in the average daily intake increases the risk of cancer of these organs by a few to 25 percent.
  • Only the amount of alcohol has a bearing on risk, not the type of alcoholic beverage.
  • 83,000 cancer cases can be prevented in the Nordic countries by 2030 by eliminating alcohol consumption. Most of the cancers that can be prevented are cancers of the bowel, breast, oral cavity and throat.

Sun-smart advice reduces the risk of skin cancer

Ikon solparasoll

Sun and tanning beds increase the risk of skin cancer, even if you don't get sunburned. For the best sun protection, combine the advice, and plan outdoor activities when the sun isn't at its strongest.

  1. Limit time in strong sun
    The sun is strongest in summer and in the hours of midday.

  2. Seek shade
    Reflection from water, sand and snow makes the sun's rays more intense, even in the shade.

  3. Wear clothes, something on your head and sunglasses
    The clothes should cover as much skin as possible. A hat with a wide brim protects both the face, ears and neck.
  4. Use plenty of sunscreen, SPF 30 or higher
    Sunscreen alone does not provide enough protection, and should be used with, not instead of, shade and clothing. Do not extend the time in the sun even if you have lubricated yourself. Lubricate before going out, repeat every two hours and after bathing and sweating.

  5. Do not use tanning beds
    There is no safe lower limit to how long you can stay in the solarium.

    Source: Norwegian Cancer Society

Protect yourself from carcinogens in the workplace

Some types of work may result in a higher risk of cancer, as a result of exposure to carcinogens and environmental factors the job entails.


  • Agriculture, forestry and fisheries – sun exposure or exposure ikon mann med ansiktsmaskecarcinogenic chemicals
  • Building industry – exposure to asbestos, solar, silica, diesel exhaust, coal production, paints and solvents may increase risk of cancer
  • Manufacturing and mining – exposure to fossil fuels, such as mineral oil, coal production, benzene and diesel exhaust, asbestos, silica, solvents, nickel or solar exposure
  • Service industry - sun exposure, passive smoking, diesel exhaust

Shift work can also increase the risk of cancer. Among other things, the Cancer Registry's researchers have studied the relationship between breast cancer among nurses who work nights. 

Read more about occupation and environmental exposure here.

Reduce pollution – inside and outside

  •  Although air pollution can be associated with cancer, the risk Ikon fabrikkmedrøykoglitehusis relatively small in Norway
  • We can all help reduce air pollution, whether it's by not smoking (indoors), and by walking more or taking public transport where possible
  • Radon is a gas found in bedrock, and is the main cause of lung cancer after smoking
  • Around 370 people get lung cancer in Norway annually as a result of radon exposure. 8The risk is higher for smokers. 

Vaccinate your children against HPV and Hepatitis B

More infections are associated with increased cancer risk. Ikon sprøyte

  • Human Papillomavirs (HPV) is a very common, sexually transmitted virus. Most people get rid of the infection without one. HPV can in some cases cause cancer, including cervical cancer, head and neck cancer, cancer and penile cancer
    • A vaccine against HPV is available and offered to all children in 7th grade
  • Hepatitis B, if left untreated, can cause liver cancer. Hepatitis B is transmitted via blood and other body fluids, and is not a common infection in Norway. Hepatitis B occurs frequently in countries in the southern hemisphere. 
    • All children in Norway are offered hepatitis B vaccine in the Childhood Immunisation Programme. The vaccine is part of the six-valent vaccine against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, haemophilus influenzae type b and hepatitis B.

Participate in the organised screening programmesIkon trepersoneriforstørrelsesglass

Some cancers can be detected early, including cervical cancer and breast cancer. This means that the cancer can be treated earlier, and often with better results. There are some disadvantages to screening, but we believe that the benefits are greater.

It is your choice, but the Cancer Registry recommends: 

  • Take a cervical swab regularly
  • Meet for a mammogram when you receive an invitation

Read more about the Cervical Screening Programme here

Read more about the Mammography Programme here

For women: 

Breastfeeding reduces maternal risk of breast cancerIkon kvinneammer

Women who have breastfed have a lower risk of breast cancer than women who have had children but have not breastfed. The reason is probably that the breasts of women who breastfeed are less exposed to oestrogen over time than women who do not breastfeed. This can reduce your risk of developing breast cancer.

Limit the use of hormones during menopauseIkon middelaldrendekvinne

Hormones such as estrogen and progesterone can be made in tablet form in laboratories. The hormones can be given to women who have feathered ovaries, to maintain hormone levels in the body after menopause.

Hormone therapy in which estrogen and progesterone are combined increases the risk of breast cancer. 

Studies have shown that stopping such hormone therapy reduces the risk of cancer.