CANCER, dementia and heart disease are among the biggest killers in the UK.
Around 167,000 people a year die from cancer, 160,000 from heart disease and 74,000 from dementia.
It’s no wonder people are worried about getting diagnosed – especially at a time when the NHS is under pressure, with record waiting lists and strikes delaying care.
At the start of our Health Kick series this month, our survey found that 57 per cent of people are worried about being diagnosed with cancer, up from 54 per cent last year, and with women (67 per cent) more anxious than men (49 per cent).
Over half of those surveyed said they were worried about getting dementia.
Meanwhile, a third of readers have high blood pressure and high cholesterol – both of which raise the risk of heart problems.
Prevention is better than the cure and simple lifestyle tweaks can help reduce your risk of these conditions.
Eating better, exercising, wearing sunscreen and seeing friends can each play a part in warding off disease.
Here Dr Tom Matthew, from mbewellness.com, tells Clare O’Reilly how to protect yourself – no matter your age.
In your 20s
SOME 90 per cent of smokers first light up between the ages of ten and 20.
The chemicals in cigarettes cause at least 15 types of cancer, including lung and bowel as well nose, mouth, throat, liver, kidney and pancreas.
Dr Matthew says: “Aside from avoiding the 30 times increased risk of lung cancer, non-smokers are far less likely to develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.”
Even if you quit smoking years ago, it remains the cause of COPD in nine of ten cases.
The habit also causes 15,000 deaths related to the circulatory system each year.
Over time, smoking leads to conditions such as heart disease, heart attack, stroke and dementia.
GET HPV VACCINE
THE human papillomavirus is a common sexually transmitted virus which is generally harmless.
But it is also linked to six different types of cancer.
There are 12 strains that are dangerous, and are behind almost all cases of cervical cancer.
To combat this, the HPV jab was introduced in 2008 for girls aged 12 to 13.
And it has led to an 87-per-cent reduction of cases, say researchers at King’s College London.
It was rolled out to boys of the same age in 2019 because HPV can lead to cancer of the anus, penis, mouth and throat.
Girls under 25 and boys born after September 1, 2006 who missed school vaccinations can get it through the NHS by checking with their GP surgery.
Dr Matthew says: “If all individuals who had access to the HPV vaccine had it, then cervical cancer would be almost non-existent – and it would also result in a drastic reduction in anal, vaginal and vulval cancers.”
It’s important, too, that women take up their invitation for smear tests to look for HPV – and changes which can lead to cervical cancer.
Smear tests start at the age of 25.
TURN THE VOLUME DOWN
PROTECT your hearing, for the sake of your brain.
Dr Matthew says: “Consistent exposure to excessive loud noise, from music for example, can lead to damage of the inner ear and the neural pathways that then lead into the brain, which is why it has been linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s.
“Look after your hearing and turn down the volume on your earphones.”
In your 30s
JOIN A GYM
EXERCISE is a powerful tool in reducing the risk of cancer, heart disease and dementia.
Dr Matthew says: “We may think heart disease is something that only affects people who are 50-plus, but this is not true and the seeds are sown years in advance.
“Obesity – and in particular fat around the belly button (visceral fat) – has a direct link to a ‘furring’ of the arteries that causes angina and heart attacks.”
There is strong evidence that long-term exercise can reduce the likelihood of developing breast or bowel cancer, and suggestive evidence against lung, pancreatic and endometrial cancers too.
Sitting for over ten hours a day can accelerate the risk of dementia, so stretch your legs regularly.
Be wary that recent research has found contact sports, such as rugby and boxing, can contribute to dementia risk.
Dr Matthew says: “We now know the direct link between repeat- ed head trauma and brain damage, which can lead to dementia.”
SUNSHINE is beneficial in many ways, but Dr Matthew warns: “Every time we tan we are damaging skin cells and, over time, that can lead to cancer.
“Getting sunburned just once can triple your risk of melanoma, which can kill.”
The British Association of Dermatologists says those aged between 18 and 34 were most likely to report sunburn last year (56 per cent).
In the UK, almost nine in ten cases of melanoma skin cancer could be prevented by staying safe in the sun and avoiding sunbeds, Cancer Research UK says.
And using tanning salons and sun beds before the age of 35 increases the risk of developing melanoma by 75 per cent, according to The Skin Cancer Foundation.
In your 40s
THIS is the decade to reassess some “bad habits” you could be taking into mid-life.
With alcohol consumption highest in the age group from 45 to 64, there’s no better time to ditch the drink.
Classified as a group one carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, alcohol is linked to seven types of cancer – breast, bowel, mouth, liver, oesophagus, voice box and throat.
Dr Matthew says: “All cells that come into contact with excessive alcohol exposure have an increased risk of becoming cancerous.”
Limiting alcohol intake is also vital for heart health and reducing the risk of dementia.
Alzheimer’s Society suggests it is safe to stick within the recommended 14 units per week for men and women – but the less, the better.
FROM the age of 40, people are advised to get their free NHS health check.
The tests will look for high cholesterol and high blood pressure, which affect an estimated 60 per cent and 33 per cent of us, respectively.
Neither show symptoms but they can lead to heart attack and stroke.
As well as exercising, stop-ping smoking and reducing alcohol, a healthy diet is key.
Limit saturated fat, found in butter, coconut oil, cheese, cream, cakes, biscuits, pastries and pies, to keep cholesterol down.
And use less table salt, which drives up blood pressure.
Dr Matthew says: “Excessive saturated fat leads to bacteria populating the gut that promote inflammation, which increases the risk of developing cancer.”
A study of European women found those with the highest- fat diets – particularly diets high in saturated fat – had a greater risk of hormone receptor- positive breast cancer.
OBESITY can lead to heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes and can cause 13 different types of cancer.
Only smoking is worse for cancer risk, but Cancer Research UK estimates that obesity will overtake smoking within the next ten to 20 years.
Dr Matthew says: “Obesity is what is called a pro-inflammatory state and this is why it increases the risk of such a wide variety of cancers.”
Obesity between the ages of 35 and 65 can in-crease dementia risk in later life by about 30 per cent.
Our survey found readers under 45 were most likely to be severely obese, compared to older age groups.
In your 50s
AROUND one in seven people aged between 45 and 54 is affected by loneliness, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Dr Matthew says: “Being part of a community, giving and receiving love and having a purpose are all human needs.
“If these are not met we enter, subconsciously, a state of chronic stress.
“This raises inflammation levels, which increases the risk of developing cancer, and we know sociability goes a long way to reducing risk of dementia too.”
SCREENING FOR CANCER
EARLY detection of cancer gives a better chance of survival, so Book in for your cancer screening tests when invited.
The NHS currently offers screening to detect HPV (cervical cancer prevention), bowel and breast cancers.
At-home bowel screening kits are gradually being rolled out to people over 50 years – previously over 60 – after The Sun’s No Time 2 Lose Campaign called for the age threshold to be lowered.
According to Bowel Cancer UK, 94 per cent of cases of bowel cancer diagnosed in the UK are in people over the age of 50.
Women will get their first invite for a mammogram to look for breast cancer between the ages of 50 and 53, and are invited for smear tests from age 25 to 64.
Prostate cancer, diagnosed in one in eight men, is more likely over the age of 50.
There is no screening for prostate cancer, but the risk checker on prostatecanceruk.org indicates whether to ask your GP for a test.
MULTIPLE studies have linked stress to heart disease, potentially as a result of higher blood pressure.
Dr Matthew says: “Simply put, being excessively stressed over a prolonged period will kill you.
“Chronic stress is a proinflammatory state, leading to furring up of your coronary arteries and then to angina and potentially a heart attack. The risk of this disease increases for both men and women in their fifties and sixties.”
Reduce stress by seeing friends.
This can also reduce dementia risk.
University College London found a 12-per-cent lower risk of dementia in those who met friends every day.
Dr Matthew says: “As we enter our sixth decade, exercise is vital for opening up new blood vessels which can prevent heart attacks and vascular dementia.”
Exercise can also reduce risk of developing dementia, by around 28 per cent.
In your 60s and 70s
BOWEL, breast, lung, melanoma and uterus cancer are the five most common cancers for women to be diagnosed with between the ages of 50 and 74.
However, research from the US has linked aspirin use to a reduced risk of breast cancer.
Dr Matthew says: “Aspirin is an anti-inflammatory drug and so, if taken regularly, will reduce inflammation in the body, which we know will reduce your overall risk of cancer.
“But in the UK, doctors will only prescribe aspirin as a secondary prevention measure after a heart attack or stroke.
“If you want to take it long- term, it is worth discussing the risks and benefits with your GP first.”
BACK TO SCHOOL
COGNITIVE activities, whether it be boardgames, chess or reading, can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s by five years, a US study found.
Dr Matthew says: “Dementia affects us by destroying nerve cells and the connections between them.
“One way we can counter this is to increase the number of nerve cells and new connections between them.
“So if one route gets blocked by dementia, our brain has other routes to use. We make new cells and connections by learning something new.”
Even better, broaden your knowledge with a friend, for the boosted social connection.
Dr Matthew says: “Loneliness, isolation, depression and a lack of purpose all increase the chances of dementia and make any symptoms of it worse.”
MORE than four in ten new cases of bowel cancer in the UK each year are diagnosed in people aged 75 and over.
But a diet that is rich in wholegrains and legumes, resembling the Mediterranean diet, has shown protective effects.
It could reduce dementia risk by up to 23 per cent, a British study showed.
The NHS says experts agree that what is good for your brain is also good for your heart, and vice versa.
Dr Matthew says: “The benefits (of the Mediterranean diet) are immense. Parts of the world that adopt this diet have much lower rates of ischaemic heart disease. It means most of your meals containing vegetables, pulses, nuts and seeds, and wholemeal produce, with reductions in saturated fats, red meat and processed foods.”