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Obesity epidemic 'will drive cancer cases to 12,000 a year'

Fat Britons are more likely to get cancer, experts warn. The obesity epidemic is set to drive up cancer rates, causing 1,500 extra cases a year by 2010, the charity Cancer Research UK says.

In all, 12,000 cases of cancer caused by excess weight will be diagnosed annually, if the present upward trend in obesity rates continues, the specialists say.

Almost 4 per cent of cancers are attributed to being overweight and government figures suggest the total of obese and overweight people is set to rise by 14 per cent by 2010, from 24.2 million in 2003 to 27.6 million.

Cancer Research UK statisticians have calculated that weight-related cancers are likely to rise from 10,500 a year to 12,000 a year in just seven years.

Professor Tim Key, Cancer Research UK's epidemiologist and expert on diet and cancer, said: "It is now well established that being overweight increases the risk of developing several types of cancer.

"The effects on breast and womb cancer are almost certainly due to the increased production of the hormone oestrogen in the fatty tissue. We are less sure of the precise mechanisms in other obesity-related cancers but we can confidently predict that the number of these cases will increase unless the rise in obesity in Britain can be reversed."

After smoking, obesity is considered one of the most important preventable causes of cancer. However, there is evidence that few people understand the connection. A survey conducted by Cancer Research UK found that only 29 per cent of overweight or obese people were aware that being fat was a cancer risk.

Dr Lesley Walker, the director of cancer information at Cancer Research UK, said: "Eating healthily and exercising regularly is the best way to maintain a healthy body weight and to reduce your cancer risk."

Dr Colin Waine, the chairman of the National Obesity Forum, said: "Often we focus on the link between cardiac and metabolic disease and obesity and cancer is put on the back burner. People need to have a greater understanding of how obesity is related to cancer."

Research in the US has shown that having a Body Mass Index (BMI) of between 30 and 35, which is classified as obese, increases the risk of dying of cancer by up to a third.

BMI is based on a person's height and weight. A BMI of 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight and 18.5 to 24.9 is normal.A total of 23 per cent of men and 25 per cent of women in the UK now have BMIs that fall into the obese category.