Poor lifestyle causing 100,000 avoidable cancers a year

Doctors have urged tougher action on alcohol and tobacco use from the government after research showed a third of all cancers in the UK are caused by avoidable lifestyle factors.

Royal College of Physicians (RCP) president Sir Richard Thompson said the figures were a 'wake up call' for the government. He said public health policies must take a firmer line.

He said: ‘The rising incidence of preventable cancers shows that the ‘carrot’ approach of voluntary agreements with industry is not enough to prompt healthy behaviours, and needs to be replaced by the ‘stick’ approach of legislative solutions.’

The systematic review by Cancer Research UK found up to 40% of all cancers diagnosed each year in the UK are caused avoidable risk factors, the majority of these linked to lifestyle choices.

Smoking was the leading lifestyle risk factor, causing 60,800 cancers each year - nearly one in five of all cancers.

As many as 23% of cancers in men and 15.6% in women are caused by the habit.

In men, the next most common cancer-causing factors were a lack of fruit and vegetables (6.1%) and occupational hazards such as asbestos exposure (4.9%).

In women, weight was the second most common risk factor for cancer after smoking, with 7% of cases linked to being overweight or obese.

This was followed by infections such as HPV (3.7%) and excessive sun exposure (3.6%).

Alcohol was linked to 4.6% of cancers in men and 3.3% of cancers in women.

Other risk factors included radiation, lack of physical exercise, lack of breast feeding, hormones, red and processed meat, lack of fibre and too much salt.

Study author Professor Max Parkin, a Cancer Research UK epidemiologist based at Queen Mary, University of London, said: 'Looking at all the evidence, it’s clear that around 40% of all cancers are caused by things we mostly have the power to change.'

Researchers were surprised that so many cancers are caused by lack of fruit and vegetables in men and excessive weight in women, he said.

Dr Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: 'Leading a healthy life doesn’t guarantee that a person won’t get cancer but this study shows that healthy habits can significantly stack the odds in our favour.'

He added: 'While we have made tremendous progress in improving the chance of surviving cancer during the last 40 years, we need to make sure people are made aware of the risks of getting the disease in the first place so they can make the healthiest possible lifestyle choices.'

The RCP wants the government to increase the price and reduce the availability of alcohol.

It also wants the introduction of measures to prevent the uptake of smoking, the promotion of smoke-free homes, banning smoking in cars, introducing plain packaging for cigarettes, and further supporting people to give up smoking.

The research was published in the British Journal of Cancer Supplement.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register

Already registered?

Sign in

Follow Us:

Just published

Temporary cap extended on GP at Hand registrations in Birmingham

Temporary cap extended on GP at Hand registrations in Birmingham

A temporary cap on patients in Birmingham registering with Babylon GP at Hand has...

NHS focus on high-achievers could leave 'immature' PCNs behind

NHS focus on high-achievers could leave 'immature' PCNs behind

Primary care networks (PCNs) formed by practices with little or no history of working...

Should GPs treat patients presenting with dental problems?

Should GPs treat patients presenting with dental problems?

The MDU's Dr Sissy Frank considers what GPs should do if a patient presents with...

Doctors' leaders join forces with GMC to demand specialist recognition for GPs

Doctors' leaders join forces with GMC to demand specialist recognition for GPs

BMA and RCGP leaders have linked up with the GMC to ramp up pressure on the government...

Failure to remove GMC power of appeal leaves experts 'deeply concerned'

Failure to remove GMC power of appeal leaves experts 'deeply concerned'

Medico-legal experts are 'deeply concerned' at the government's failure to strip...

GP practices defraud health service out of £88m a year, NHS report suggests

GP practices defraud health service out of £88m a year, NHS report suggests

An NHS England report on fraud, bribery and corruption suggests there is a 'realistic...