Over 40% of cancers due to lifestyle - review
10 Dec BBC
Nearly half of cancers diagnosed in the UK each year - over 130,000
in total - are caused by avoidable life choices including smoking,
drinking and eating the wrong things, a review reveals.
Tobacco is the biggest culprit, causing 23% of cases in men and 15.6%
in women, says the Cancer Research UK report.
Next comes a lack of fresh fruit and vegetables in men's diets, while
for women it is being overweight. The report is published in the British
Journal of Cancer.
Its authors claim it is the most comprehensive analysis to date on
Lead author Prof Max Parkin said: "Many people believe cancer is down
to fate or 'in the genes' and that it is the luck of the draw whether
they get it.
"Looking at all the evidence, it's clear that around 40% of all
cancers are caused by things we mostly have the power to change."
For men, the best advice appears to be: stop smoking, eat more fruit
and veg and cut down on how much alcohol you drink.
For women, again, the reviews says the best advice is to stop
smoking, but also watch your weight.
Prof. Parkin said: "We didn't expect to find that eating fruit and
vegetables would prove to be so important in protecting men against
cancer. And among women we didn't expect being overweight to be more of
a risk factor than alcohol."
In total, 14 lifestyle and environmental factors, such as where you
live and the job you do, combine to cause 134,000 cancers in the UK each
About 100,000 (34%) of the cancers are linked to smoking, diet,
alcohol and excess weight.
One in 25 of cancers is linked to a person's job, such as being
exposed to chemicals or asbestos.
Some risk factors are well established, such as smoking's link with
But others are less recognised.
For example, for breast cancer, nearly a 10th of the risk comes from
being overweight or obese, far outweighing the impact of whether or not
the woman breastfeeds or drinks alcohol. And for oesophageal or gullet
cancer, half of the risk comes from eating too little fruit and veg,
while only a fifth of the risk is from alcohol, the report shows.
For stomach cancer, a fifth of the risk comes from having too much
salt in the diet, data suggests. Some cancers, like mouth and throat
cancer, are caused almost entirely by lifestyle choices.
But others, like gall bladder cancer, are largely unrelated to
The researchers base their calculations on predicted numbers of cases
for 18 different types of cancer in 2010, using UK incidence figures for
the 15-year period from 1993 to 2007.
In men, 6.1% (9,600) of cancer cases were linked to a lack of fruit
and vegetables, 4.9% (7,800) to occupation, 4.6% (7,300) to alcohol,
4.1% (6,500) to overweight and obesity and 3.5% (5,500) to excessive sun
exposure and sunbeds.
In women, 6.9% (10,800) were linked to overweight and obesity, 3.7%
(5,800) to infections such as HPV (which causes most cases of cervical
cancer), 3.6% (5,600) to excessive sun exposure and sunbeds, 3.4%
(5,300) to lack of fruit and vegetables and 3.3% (5,100) to alcohol.
Dr. Rachel Thompson, of the World Cancer Research Fund, said the
report added to the "now overwhelmingly strong evidence that our cancer
risk is affected by our lifestyles".
Dr. Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said leading
a healthy lifestyle did not guarantee a person would not get cancer but
the study showed "we can significantly stack the odds in our favour".
"If there are things we can do to reduce our risk of cancer we should
do as much as we possibly can," he said. Glyn Berwick, of Penny Brohn
Cancer Care, which specialises in offering nutrition and exercise
"We know from years of experience the positive impact that changing
lifestyles can have."
The president of the Royal College of Physicians, Sir Richard
Thompson, said the findings were a wake-up call to the government to
take stronger action on public health.
"The rising incidence of preventable cancers shows that the 'carrot'
approach of voluntary agreements with industry is not enough to prompt
healthy behaviours, and needs to be replaced by the 'stick' approach of
legislative solutions," he said
The government said it was intending to begin a consultation on plain
packaging by the end of this year.
Diane Abbott, Shadow Public Health Minister, said: "The government is
failing on all the main public health issues.