More than 135,500 cancer cases a year - or 2600 per week - could be prevented in the UK by making certain lifestyle changes, a landmark study has revealed. This equates to 37.7% of all cancers diagnosed each year in the UK – rising to 41.5% in Scotland.
The figures revealed smoking to be the biggest preventable cause of cancer, with excess weight and overexposure to UV radiation coming in second and third place, respectively.
The figures, published today by Cancer Research UK in the British Journal of Cancer, were calculated from 2015 cancer data.
Despite the fact that smoking rates are declining, tobacco smoke causes one in six (17.7%) of all male cancer cases, which adds up to around 32,200 individuals, and one in eight (12.4%) female cases, totalling around 22,000.
When it came weight being a factor, the gender disparity flips. Around 22,800 (6.3%) of cases are caused by being overweight or obese, which breaks down into around 13,200 (7.5%) women and 9,600 (5.2%) men. Being overweight or obese as an adult is linked to 13 different types of cancer including breast, bowel and kidney cancer. A recent report from the charity, which predicted millennials to be the most overweight generation since records began, only 15% of people in the UK are aware of the link between weight and cancer. In fact, the results of today’s study suggest that more than one in 20 cancer cases could be prevented by maintaining a healthy weight.
The third biggest preventable cause of cancer is overexposure to UV radiation, whether that’s through the sun or sunbeds. This risk causes around 13,600 cases of melanoma skin cancer each year - which is 3.8% of all cancer cases.
Other preventable causes of cancer include drinking alcohol, eating too little fibre - causing around 11,900 and around 11,700 cases respectively, which is 3.3% each - and outdoor air pollution. While air pollution is to blame for around 3,600 lung cancer cases a year (1% of all cancer cases), it still causes far fewer cases of lung cancer than smoking. Finally, too little activity causes 1,917 or 0.5% of cancer cases.
Sir Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said of the findings: “Leading a healthy life doesn’t guarantee that a person won’t get cancer, but it can stack the odds in your favour. These figures show that we each can take positive steps to help reduce our individual risk of the disease.
“This research clearly demonstrates the impact of smoking and obesity on cancer risk. Prevention is the most cost-effective way of beating cancer and the UK Government could do much more to help people by making a healthy choice the easy choice.”
Professor Linda Bauld, Cancer Research UK’s prevention expert, commented: “These new figures show that the battle to conquer smoking-related cancer is far from over. But the declining numbers of smokers show that prevention strategies are working.
“Obesity is a huge health threat right now, and it will only get worse if nothing is done. The UK Government must build on the successes of smoking prevention to reduce the number of weight-related cancers. Banning junk food TV adverts before the 9pm watershed is an important part of the comprehensive approach needed.”