UK breast cancer rate higher than East Africa

Breast cancer rates are more than four times higher in the UK than in Eastern Africa, figures showed today.

Some 87.9 per 100,000 British women were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, compared to just 19.3 women per 100,000 in Eastern Africa.

The statistics come from the World Health Organisation's global database of disease prevalence.

Eastern Africa includes countries such as Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.

The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) said some of the difference is because British doctors are better at diagnosing and recording cases.

However, it warned that British lifestyles - including a high incidence of obesity, too much drinking and a lack of exercise - were contributing to high rates of breast cancer at home.

Research has shown that around four out of 10 cases in British women could be prevented if women kept to a healthy weight, drank less alcohol and were more active.

Women in Eastern Africa drink much less alcohol than British women and obesity is far less common. They are also much more likely to breastfeed - which lowers the rates of breast cancer even further.

According to the statistics, the highest rates of breast cancer in the world are in Belgium, which had 109.4 cases per 100,000 women in 2008.

Breast cancer is now the most common cancer in the UK, with around 46,000 new cases each year. The disease kills about 12,000 British women annually.

Dr Rachel Thompson, deputy head of science for the WCRF, said: "The fact that breast cancer rates in Eastern Africa are so much lower than in the UK is a stark reminder that, every year in this country, thousands of women are diagnosed with a case of cancer that could have been prevented.

"That such a large difference in breast cancer rates exists between these two areas is a real concern.

"Also, it is not just Eastern Africa that has significantly lower breast cancer rates.

"The rate here is double that of South America, for example, and more than three times that of Eastern Asia.

"The fact that rates of breast cancer are much lower in other parts of the world highlights the fact that breast cancer is not inevitable.

"This means we need to do more to get across the message that just by making relatively simple changes to our lifestyle such as drinking less alcohol and maintaining a healthy weight, women can reduce their risk of breast cancer."

Dr Caitlin Palframan, policy manager at Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: "It is difficult to directly compare these two populations side by side as it is likely that many breast cancer cases in Eastern Africa are not diagnosed or recorded.

"Breast cancer is thought to be due to a combination of lifestyle, genetic and environmental factors and many of these may differ between the UK and other populations.

"Although some risk factors cannot be changed women can reduce their risk by drinking less alcohol, maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly."