Diet of fast food increases young girls' cancer risk

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The Independent Online
THE DIET of girls in the first 10 years of life could determine their risk of breast cancer in later life, an expert warned yesterday.

Girls who live on fast food, burgers and other high-fat, highly processed products increase their risk of a range of cancers when they become overweight. The female hormone oestrogen, which can trigger cancer, is stored in the excess fat, increasing the levels circulating in the body.

Professor Paul Kleihues, director of the World Health Organisation's International Agency for Research on Cancer, gave the warning at the launch of a campaign to halt the spread of unhealthy Western lifestyles, which are contributing to soaring cancer rates. On present trends, the number of cancer cases is likely to double with 20 million new cases a year by 2020 and 10 million deaths.

Professor Kleihues said: "Thirty per cent of tumours in breast, prostate and colon cancer are associated with nutrition. There is increasing evidence linking breast cancer to dietary habits in the first 10 years."

The WHO's campaign is aimed to cut the worldwide toll from cancer to 15 million cases and save 4 million lives. It is the first time that the WHO has devoted a big campaign to combating a disease associated with the high living standards of the West. Growing prosperity and the ageing of the world's population have meant that cancer is becoming as big a threat to health as the infectious diseases that have been the traditional scourge of the developing world.

The campaign, costing $5m a year (pounds 3m), will aim to persuade governments to focus resources on preventing cancers and detecting them early when they are simpler and cheaper to treat. It will counter practices such as smoking and consumption of a fatty diet, which have led to the soaring rates. The WHO's previous spending on cancer was $1m a year.

Even with the five-fold increase in spending, the WHO says collaboration from the private sector, such as the multinational drug firms, will be essential to develop special programmes for each country.

Professor Karol Sikora, chief of the WHO cancer programme and head of oncology at Hammersmith Hospital, London, said: "The next 25 years will be a time of unprecedented change in the way in which we shall be able to control the spread of cancer. Of the 20 million new cancer patients every year by 2020, 70 per cent will live in countries that between them will have less than 5 per cent of the resources for cancer control ... Early detection and education is the trick. By educating the public and doctors about the importance of early detection we can bring deaths down."

The global strategy is to be drawn up today at an international conference in London.