Lifestyle is blamed for half a million UK cancers in past five years

BMJ 2014; 349 doi: (Published 29 December 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g7819
  1. Zosia Kmietowicz
  1. 1The BMJ

Nearly 600 000 cancer cases in the United Kingdom could have been avoided in the past five years if people had led healthier lifestyles, figures from Cancer Research UK have shown. Overall, experts said that more than four in 10 cancers could be prevented by lifestyle changes.

Smoking remains by far the biggest preventable cause of cancer in the UK, accounting for more than 314 000 cases in the past five years—nearly a fifth of all cancers. But the charity’s figures showed that a further 145 000 cases could have been prevented if people had eaten a healthy balanced diet, low in red and processed meat and salt but high in vegetables, fruit, and fibre. Keeping a healthy weight could have prevented around 88 000 cases of cancer, the charity said.

Cutting down on alcohol, protecting skin in the sun, and taking more exercise could also have helped prevent tens of thousands of people in the UK from developing cancer in the past five years, it added.

A study published in the British Journal of Cancer1 and led by Max Parkin, a Cancer Research UK statistician based at Queen Mary University of London, was used to estimate the effect of lifestyle on cancer cases. “There’s now little doubt that certain lifestyle choices can have a big impact on cancer risk, with research around the world all pointing to the same key risk factors,” he said. “Leading a healthy lifestyle can’t guarantee someone won’t get cancer, but we can stack the odds in our favour by taking positive steps now that will help decrease our cancer risk in future.”

Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said, “We know that cutting UK smoking rates by just 1% could save 3000 lives a year. But changing our habits isn’t easy. That’s why we’ve made it a priority to invest in more research so we can learn the best ways to help people make healthier choices to reduce their cancer risk in later life.

“Every year tens of thousands of people in the UK will be diagnosed with preventable cancers unless we act now to help people lead healthier lives. Alongside investment in health campaigns and ways to help people reduce their risk of cancer, the government urgently needs to take action to stop children starting smoking by introducing standardised packaging for cigarettes without delay.

“We hope all parliamentary parties will acknowledge that cancer is set to be an ongoing challenge and one which needs careful planning and investment across prevention, diagnosis and treatment.”


Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g7819


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