Global Key Message

  • Investment in the reduction of a population’s exposure to cancer risk factors is a long-term investment in the health of the population, which will also reduce the overall burden on the health system.
  • Effective cancer prevention at the national level begins with a national cancer control plan (NCCP) that responds to a country’s cancer burden and cancer risk factor prevalence.
  • A NCCP is designed to implement evidence-based resource-appropriate policies and programmes that reduce the level of exposure to risk factors for cancer and strengthen the capacity of individuals of all ages to adopt lifestyle choices that promote good health for life.

The Facts – Key data

  • With the right strategies, the World Health Organization estimates that 30 to 50% of cancer cases could be prevented.
  • Cancer and other high-prevalence non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are linked to common risk factors, namely tobacco use, harmful use of alcohol, an unhealthy diet, and a lack of physical activity
Tobacco use

Tobacco use is linked to 71% of all lung cancer deaths, and accounts for at least 22% of all cancer deaths. Alcohol is also a known risk factor for cancer and is strongly linked with an increased risk of cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, bowel, liver and breast.

WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, 2015.

Meeting the Challenge

A life-course approach to prevention is a core principle of the WHO Global Action Plan for NCDs 2013-2020 seeking to address exposure to risk factors at all ages and stages, including during childhood and adolescence when many risk behaviours first start. Concerted action in all sections of society and at all levels is needed to facilitate the implementation of prevention policies and programmes, including in schools and the workplace.


Example - World Cancer Research Fund

The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) network has been a pioneer in research and health information on the link between food, nutrition, physical activity and preventing and surviving cancer since 1982. WCRF’s Continuous Update Project is an ongoing programme to systematically analyse cancer prevention and survival research related to diet, nutrition and physical activity all over the world. The analyses are conducted by a dedicated team at Imperial College London and interpretation and judgement is carried out by an independent panel of world-renowned experts. The findings are published as Expert Reports. The conclusions of the panel of experts have been used to develop a blueprint for living healthily to reduce the risk of cancer: the Cancer Prevention Recommendations.