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British study finds more than one third of cancers could be avoided with lifestyle changes

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A landmark study by Cancer Research UK found that being overweight is a contributing factor to cancer – and it’s growing.

Excess weight now caused 6.3 per cent of all cancer cases, rising from 5.5 per cent in 2011.

The latest figures, calculated from 2015 cancer data, were analysised in the study to examine preventable cancers and to find ways individuals can help to minimise their risks to develop cancer.

Sir Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive said: “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.”   

Cancer Research UK’s research found more than a third of all cases of cancer were avoidable – some 135,000.

Smoking in the United Kingdom still remains the biggest preventable cause of cancer despite the continued decline in smoking rates.

Tobacco smoke caused around 32,200 cases of cancer in men (17.7 per cent of all male cancer cases) and around 22,000 (12.4 per cent) in women in 2015, according to the research published in the British Journal of Cancer.

Cancer UK Research one of the biggest messages that they thought should be taken from the research was more action was needed to tackle the “health threat” of obesity.

Professor Linda Bauld, Cancer Research UK’s prevention expert, said: “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.”

The research found that the third most preventable cancer in the UK was overexposure to UV radiation from sun or sunbeds. This directly caused about 13,600 cases of melanoma skin cancer a year, 3.8 per cent of all cancer cases.

Other preventable causes of cancer included drinking alcohol and eating too little fibre.

Cancer Research UK was keen to point out however, that is not a simple exercise to point to one thing alone to stop cancer. It was more an endorsement of the idea that many cancers were potentially preventable.

Professor Mel Greaves, from the Institute of Cancer Research, in London, said there was still many areas to be explored further in how to reduce cancers.

“If obesity could be avoided, the impact on cancer rates is uncertain – but they would almost certainly decline significantly,” Professor Greaves said.

“Given the currently high rates of obesity in young people, this represents (like cigarette smoking) a major societal challenge beyond the bounds of the medical arena.”

A copy of the study can be found at: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41416-018-0029-6 .