Lifestyle factors to blame for 38% of cancers

pharmafile | March 23, 2018 | News story | Medical Communications Cancer, Cancer Research UK, UK government, biotech, drugs, pharma, pharmaceutical 

A new study by Cancer Research UK has found that more than 135,500 cases of cancer every year in the UK are due to lifestyle habits, meaning that 37.7% of cancers could potentially be prevented by making simple changes.

One of the most notable observations of the study was the rising impact that weight has on the risk of cancer – 6.3% of individuals diagnosed with cancer had their illness identified as directly related to their body weight.

This puts obesity and being overweight as the second largest lifestyle contributor to developing cancer, only behind smoking (15.1%) in terms of risk.

The research coincides with a campaign CRUK is currently raising awareness of how important maintaining a healthy body weight is to minimising cancer risk.

Sir Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s Chief Executive, said: “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.”

The UK government is currently under pressure from all angles over its plan to cut free school meals, which have provided healthy meals to children from lower-income backgrounds. The government was recently defeated in the House of Lords over its cost-cutting measure, and is being advised to undertake a full impact assessment before making any changes.

However, ensuring a healthy diet is just one of a number of lifestyle changes that were identified as part of the report that made up the rest of lifestyle choices that impact cancer risk.

UV radiation exposure, such as from the sun or from sunbeds, was identified as a big risk, contributing to 3.8% of cancers while alcohol consumption (3.3%) and infections (3.6%) also contributed.

A bright side to the news is that the proportion of preventable cancers has actually fallen from the previous study undertaken in 2011, down from 42.7% to 37.7%. This drop is largely attributable to the drop in smoking’s impact on health, with 19.4% of cases in 2011 being due to smoking but down to 15.1% in the 2015 data.

Professor Linda Bauld, Cancer Research UK’s prevention expert, took the opportunity to warn about the risk of rising obesity to push these figures back up, saying: “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.”

Ben Hargreaves

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