Lifestyle Choices Cause More Than 100,000 Cancers Each Year

Cancer Research UK LogoA report by Cancer Research has revealed that 40% (100,000) of cancers diagnosed annually in the UK are caused by a person’s lifestyle choice and could potentially have been prevented.  The main causes of the cancers included smoking, eating the wrong type of daily diet, and drinking alcohol.

This number rises to around 134,000 when taking into account all 14 lifestyle and environmental risk factors, which include tobacco, lack of fruit and vegetables, excessive sun exposure and sunbeds, lack of physical exercise and lack of breast feeding.

Smoking was found to be the most important lifestyle factor triggering 23% of cancers in men and 15.6% in women (nearly one in five cancers).

After smoking came a lack of fresh fruit and vegetables in men’s diets, whilst for women it was being overweight.

In total the report showed that 45% of cancers in men could be prevented, compared to 40% of cancers in women.

Study author, Professor Max Parkin, commented that “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 per cent of all cancers are caused by things we mostly have the power to change” he added.

However, the report points out that “in most cases cancers have multiple causes – for example a cervical cancer can be linked to both HPV infection and smoking.”

Overall, one in 25 cancers is linked to occupation, such as being exposed to chemicals or asbestos, and one in 33 to infections.

It is estimated that tobacco smoking, dietary factors, drinking alcohol and bodyweight account for 106,845 or 34% of cancers occurring in 2010.  This is based on estimated numbers of cancer cases in 2010, using UK figures for the 15-year period from 1993 to 2007.

Although some links between lifestyle and cancer are well-known, such as the link between smoking and lung cancer, others are not so well documented.  For example, for breast cancer, nearly a 10th of the risk comes as a result of 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 vegetables, while only a 5th of the risk is from alcohol.  Some cancers, like mouth and throat cancer, are caused almost entirely by lifestyle choices.

Dr Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, noted that “leading a healthy life doesn’t guarantee that a person won’t get cancer but this study shows that healthy habits can significantly stack the odds in our favour.”

“While we have made tremendous progress in improving the chance of surviving cancer during the last 40 years, we need to make sure people are made aware of the risks of getting the disease in the first place so they can make the healthiest possible lifestyle choices”, he added.

“We know that cancer risk can be affected by family history and getting older, but these figures show that we can take positive steps to help reduce our risk of the disease. Stopping smoking, eating a balanced diet, cutting down on alcohol and maintaining a healthy weight could be New Year’s resolutions that help save more lives in future.”

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