Healthy living

80,000 cancers a year could be prevented

UK now as bad as US for lifestyle cancers

When it comes to lifestyle related cancers, Britain is now as bad as the US, according to a cancer expert.

In a new report out today, Professor Martin Wiseman, Scientific and Medical Adviser for the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF), says around one in three cases of the UK's most common cancers could have been prevented through healthy eating, exercise and maintaining a healthy weight.

Both countries now have a similar proportion of lifestyle related cancers, despite the UK having a lower obesity rate. However, in the UK we make up for this by drinking more alcohol.

Professor Wiseman said: “Because we read so much about America’s problems with obesity and junk food, people may find it surprising that the proportion of cancer cases related to diet, physical activity and weight is just as bad here in the UK.

“It is true that a higher proportion of cancer cases in the US are linked to body fat, but not by much. In the US, we estimate that for the seven types of cancer that are weight related, just under 20 per cent could be prevented through people being a healthy weight. In the UK, this figure is about 17 per cent.

“But one reason the overall situation in the UK is as bad is the amount of alcohol we drink and this means we need to do more to raise awareness that alcohol increases cancer risk. To take breast cancer as an example, an estimated 20 per cent of cases in the UK can be attributed to alcohol. That is double the estimate for the US."

A healthy diet, regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight could prevent around 80,000 cases of cancer each year in the UK, he said.

The 12 most common types of cancer in the report include those of the mouth, pharynx and larynx, oesophagus, lung, stomach, pancreas, gallbladder, liver, bowel, breast, and endometrium (lining of the womb), prostate and kidney.

Professor Wiseman added: “It is important to emphasise that estimating the proportion of cancer cases that are preventable is difficult and this means that these figures should be treated with caution.

"But even so, they do give an idea of how high the stakes are and highlight the importance of getting across the message about the potential impact that lifestyle changes can have.”

WCRF top ten tips to reduce your cancer risk:

  • Be as lean as possible without becoming underweight
  • Be physically active for at least 30 minutes a day.
  • Avoid sugary drinks
  • Cut back on the amount of processed food you eat which is high in added sugar, or low in fibre, or high in salt
  • Eat more of a variety of vegetables, fruits, wholegrains and pulses such as beans.
  • Limit consumption of red meats and avoid processed meats.
  • If consumed at all, limit alcoholic drinks to two for men and one for women a day
  • Limit consumption of salty foods and food processed with salt
  • Don’t use supplements for cancer prevention
  • It’s best for mothers to breastfeed exclusively for up to six months and then add other liquids and foods

This article was published on Tue 6 April 2010

Image © Irina Yun -

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