Lifestyle and Behaviour Change Interventions

The research in this area comprises of both the clinical work of the lifestyle factors which influence an individual’s cancer risk, and the use of behaviour change interventions in order to lower this risk.

Cancer Research UK (CRUK) outlined that more than 4 in 10 cancer cases are estimated to be preventable by lifestyle/ behaviour changes. Changing lifestyle factors, such as by increasing exercise or being smoke free, can never fully guarantee being free of cancer throughout your lifetime but it may decrease your individual risk of specific types of cancers significantly.

Modifiable factors are targeted in research by both clinical and non-clinical investigators, with the main aim being the prevention of cancer. Prevention research falls into three categories:

  1.  Primary prevention: preventing the disease before it first ever occurs, i.e. tackling the social and behavioural determinants at a public health level

  2.  Secondary prevention: early detection of the disease at a pre-symptomatic stage, i.e. cost-effective population screening programmes. To read more visit our Screening page.

  3.  Tertiary prevention: management of disease post diagnosis, i.e. weight loss interventions after a diagnosis of cancer

Research in Greater Manchester has examined the link between obesity and cancers, such as colorectal, gynaecological, breast and pancreatic cancer. Dr Michelle Harvie and Professor Tony Howell have collaborated on projects relating to diet and lowering the risk of breast cancer. Together they developed a scientifically proven intermittent diet which aims to safely and quickly reduce an individual’s weight, and thus their risk of developing specific cancers. Read more about the 2-day diet at:

Professor Andrew Renehan

Professor Andrew Renehan

“Having attended the European Obesity Summit in Gothenburg, I was reminded that the prevalence of excess body weight continues to increase unabated across almost all populations in Europe. We now appreciate that overweight and obesity are associated with increased risk of at least ten different adult cancer types. For many of these cancers, the numbers of new cases (incidence) are increasing at worrying rates. Obesity is now the second commonest cause of cancer (after smoking) in Europe. These figures underpin the major challenges in this research area for the next decade.

This year (2016), I was one of 21 international scientists who worked with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Agency for Cancer Research (IARC) to update the scientific evidence linking obesity and cancer. This comprehensive document will inform global policy on obesity control.”

Clinical research into lifestyle factors has paved the way for research into the psychological interventions, which aim to change individual’s targeted behaviour in order to reduce their risk of cancer. Research has examined the effects of personalised risk on subsequent behaviours such as improving dietary practices, increasing exercise participation and reducing alcohol consumption.

Professor David French

Professor David French

“Many cancers are caused by behaviours such as alcohol consumption or lack of physical activity.  Much of my research is aiming to develop effective ways to help people increase their physical activity, e.g. by seeing if “greening” parts of urban Manchester makes older people walk more near to where they live.  In addition, we are currently researching the feasibility of informing women of their future breast cancer risk when they attend for mammography as part of the NHS breast screening programme.  This will allow them to make informed decisions about changing these behaviours related to health or attending additional screening for women who are at higher risk.”


Professor Janelle Yorke and associates in the Christie Patient Centred Research (CPCR) team are examining the practicalities of lay volunteers carrying out health promotion in the community. Click here to read more on CPCR department. 

Cancer research in the past has tended to focus more on treatments rather than prevention, but the ultimate method to fighting cancer is to prevent it ever occurring in the first place. Research into cancer prevention can help a greater number of people lead complete cancer-free lives.