Cancer increase driven by obesity and suntanning

Modern lifestyles, growing number of elderly, and outdated attitudes keep killer disease on the increase, despite some reductions
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Cases of cancer are rising in the UK, driven by increasing obesity and our love affair with the sun - in defiance of the huge resources being spent to counter the disease.

Cases of cancer are rising in the UK, driven by increasing obesity and our love affair with the sun - in defiance of the huge resources being spent to counter the disease.

Big increases in skin cancer, malignant melanoma, cancer of the uterus and prostate cancer were only partly offset by falls in stomach and cervical cancers, according to figures published yesterday.

There were 7,000 cases of melanoma in 2000, up 16 per cent in a year and up 24 per cent in five years. Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer and affects women more than men.

It is often caused by spending too much time in the sun, especially in short intense bursts on holidays, but the effects may not be felt until years later when a mole starts to change shape or colour, signalling the growth of the cancer.

The rise in cases of melanoma, which seems to be accelerating, reflects the change in the average Briton's holidaying habits of five, 10, or 15 years ago. Some evidence suggests it is sun exposure in childhood that determines the risk of developing melanoma later on.

Melanoma is one of the fastest growing cancers, despite being almost entirely preventable. Cancer specialists say there is an urgent need to change young people's attitudes to tanning, as has been achieved in Australia.

Uterine cancer is also sharply up to 5,600 cases, an 8 per cent rise in a year and 22 per cent during a five-year period. Experts believe the rise is driven by increasing obesity which also plays a role in other cancers.

Professor David Forman, chairman of the UK Association of Cancer Registries, which compiled the figures published by Cancer Research UK, said: "A number of epidemiological studies have shown quite a strong association between uterine cancer and obesity."

Professor Forman said obesity also played an important role in a sub-type of cancer of the oesophagus (gullet) that was also rising, as well as contributing to breast and bowel cancers.

There were 40,700 cases of breast cancer in 2000, up 12 per cent over five years although there was a slight fall of 600 cases between 1999 and 2000.

Recorded cases of some cancers rose because of improved diagnosis. The rise in prostate cancer, up 25 per cent over five years to 27,200 cases, reflects increasing awareness of the disease which has led more men to demand blood tests from their doctors.

The downside is that the test often picks up cancers that will not be life-threatening, require no treatment and of which the patients would almost have been better to remain in ignorance.

Overall, more than 270,000 people in the UK were diagnosed with cancer in 2000, up 3,000 on the previous year and up 14,800 on 1995, an increase of almost 6 per cent. In Scotland, cases fell because of success in curbing smoking.

Professor Robert Souhami, Cancer Research UK's director of clinical affairs, said: "These statistics paint a picture of the ups and downs of cancer incidence in the UK. They highlight the impact prevention can make with falls in smoking-related cancers, in cervical cancer, because of screening and in stomach cancer, thanks to improvements in food hygiene and preservation.

"On the other hand, certain cancers are increasing more quickly than we'd expect simply by the ageing of the population. It is worrying to see that melanoma rates are continuing to rise unabated."

Delyth Morgan, chief executive of Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: "We are encouraged by the decrease in both lung and cervical cancer where prevention strategies are really beginning to pay off.

"However, we are deeply concerned about the continuing rise in breast cancer over the last five years."

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