Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

The Independent's journalism is supported by our readers. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn commission.

Four in 10 cancer cases could be avoided in UK by lifestyle changes, study claims

Drinking less alcohol and maintaining a healthy weight could help prevent 2,500 cases a week

Sarah Young
Friday 23 March 2018 10:49 GMT

More than 2,500 cancer cases in the UK could be prevented each week if people made lifestyle changes such as drinking less alcohol, exercising, keeping their weight down and giving up smoking, research suggests.

This equates to 37.7 per cent of all cancers diagnosed each year in the UK, rising to 41.5 per cent in Scotland, new figures from Cancer Research UK (CRUK) reveal.

Calculated from 2015 data, the figures showed that exposure to tobacco smoke was the leading factor, followed by excess weight, overexposure to UV radiation, drinking alcohol, eating too little fibre, and outdoor air pollution.

Accounting for more than 15 per cent of cancer cases, CRUK states that despite the continued decline in smoking rates, it remains the biggest preventable cause of cancer with around 32,000 cases in men and 22,000 in women in 2015.

Now though, researchers are warning that while smoking rates have gone down, rates of obesity are on the rise and predict that it could soon overtake smoking as the biggest killer.

“Obesity is a huge health threat right now, and it will only get worse if nothing is done,” said professor Linda Bauld, Cancer Research UK’s prevention expert.

“The UK Government must build on the successes of smoking prevention to reduce the number of weight-related cancers. Banning junk food TV adverts before the 9pm watershed is an important part of the comprehensive approach needed.”

Currently the second largest preventable cause of cancer, around 22,800 cases a year are down to being overweight or obese. This amounts to around 13,200 cases in women and around 9,600 cases in men.

The research also showed that obesity causes 13 different types of cancer including bowel, breast, womb and kidney, and that more than one in 20 of these cases could be prevented by maintaining a healthy weight.

The third biggest preventable cause of cancer was found to be overexposure to UV radiation from the sun and sunbeds, which causes around 13,600 cases of melanoma skin cancer a year.

Other avoidable causes of cancer include drinking alcohol, eating too little fibre and outdoor air pollution. But, while air pollution is to blame for around 3,600 lung cancer cases a year, it still causes far fewer cases of lung cancer than tobacco.

“Leading a healthy life doesn’t guarantee that a person won’t get cancer, but it can stack the odds in your favour,” said Sir Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive.

“These figures show that we each can take positive steps to help reduce our individual risk of the disease.

“This research clearly demonstrates the impact of smoking and obesity on cancer risk. Prevention is the most cost-effective way of beating cancer and the UK Government could do much more to help people by making a healthy choice the easy choice.”

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in