40% of cancers could be avoided through lifestyle changes

23 March 2018 11:04

Lifestyle changes can stave off the threat of cancer

Lifestyle changes can stave off the threat of cancer

Almost two-fifths of all cancers diagnosed in the UK every year could be avoided through lifestyle changes, new research has revealed.

The biggest causes of cancer are smoking, followed by excess weight, overexposure to UV radiation from the sun and sunbeds, consuming alcohol, insufficient consumption of fibre, and outdoor air pollution, a study by Cancer Research UK found.

Obesity the 'new smoking'

Experts leading the study warned that obesity could outrun smoking as the new biggest cause of cancer in the UK, as rates continue to rise and the number of smokers keeps falling.

Cancer Research UK chief executive Sir Harpal Kumar said: "Obesity is potentially the new smoking, if we're not careful.

"My sense would be it'll be some time in next couple of decades that we'll see those two switch around."

He said the landmark study demonstrates that prevention is the best way of beating the killer disease, adding that the Government could be doing "much more" to help people make healthier choices.

The latest figures, calculated from 2015 cancer data, show more than 135,500 cases of cancer a year could be prevented - equating to 37.7% of all cancers diagnosed in the UK every year and rising to 41.5% in Scotland.

Preventable causes

Smoking remains the biggest preventable cause of cancer - responsible for around 32,200 cases of cancer in men (17.7% of all male cancer cases) and around 22,000 (12.4%) in women.

Excess weight is the second biggest preventable cause of cancer, with around 22,800 (6.3%) cases down to being overweight or obese.

The research shows that obesity causes 13 different types of cancer, including bowel, breast, womb and kidney, and more than one in 20 cases could be prevented by maintaining a healthy weight.

Dr Katrina Brown, Cancer Research UK's statistical information and risk manager, and the study's lead author, said the public did not understand the risks of smoking until relatively recently, and it is hoped that increased information and awareness will mean the same will eventually become of obesity.

Asked about accusations of fat shaming following a recent obesity-related campaign by the charity, she said: "We definitely need to change attitudes towards obesity. As a charity we have a responsibility to communicate evidence about risk."

Highlighting studies that show public perceptions of what is a normal weight have gone up, Dr Brown added: "People regard being large as increasingly normal - that is a shift in cultural norms and acceptability.

"So we need to not only convey the message about the health risks, but also that our population is getting larger."

The data shows the third biggest preventable cause of cancer is overexposure to UV radiation - causing around 13,600 cases of melanoma skin cancer a year (3.8% of all cancer cases).

Drinking alcohol causes around 11,900 cases, while eating too little fibre is responsible for around 11,700.

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