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400 UK cancer cases daily from junk food, alcohol and sunbathing

Around 400 preventable cancers are caught a day in the UK, experts have warned, listing fast food, alcohol and too much sun exposure as the leading causes. They estimate that around 155 000 diagnoses could be prevented each year if Britons adopted healthier lifestyles.

Cutting back on red meat, avoiding processed meat and drinking less alcohol are among the recommendations from the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) to help reduce the risk of getting the illness.

Some 387 820 people were diagnosed with cancer in 2019/20, a rise of more than 20 000 in two years despite the pandemic disrupting services, reports Daily Mail. Around four in 10 of these cases could be prevented with better lifestyle choices, like eating more healthily, not smoking and exercising more, the charity said.

Breast cancer was the most common type with 56 987 new diagnoses, closely followed by prostate cancer at 55 068. Lung cancer remains the most deadly – killing 34 171 in 2019/20 – and the second-most prolific, with 48 754 new cases.

These figures are slightly down from 35 180 and 48 017 respectively. Cases of deadly skin cancer melanoma, which can be caused by over-exposure to the sun, rose from 16 183 to 17 845 over the two-year period.

Meanwhile there were 44 706 cases and 17 484 deaths from bowel cancer, which is increasingly linked to lifestyle factors.

Being overweight or obese is linked to a higher risk of 13 types of cancer including breast, womb, bowel, liver, kidney and pancreatic. Smoking is estimated to be responsible for 70% of lung cancer cases, nearly one fifth of all new cancer cases a year.

But as around two-thirds of adults and a third of children are overweight or obese, experts warn that it is only a matter of time before this overtakes smoking as the leading cause of the disease.

The data suggest the number of preventable cases has risen by 8 000 since 2017/18.

Dr Vanessa Gordon-Dseagu of the WCRF, which funds scientists around the world to examine ways of preventing cancer, said the growing ageing population would see numbers continue to rise over the next few decades. But she suggested the chances of contracting many cancers could be lowered by avoiding alcohol, eating no more than three portions of red meat a week and little, if any, processed meat.

Other measures include staying safe in the sun and mothers breastfeeding babies if possible.

“Over the years, research has estimated that around 40% of cancers are associated with modifiable risk factors,” she added. “These include smoking and limiting sun exposure. Alongside this, research has shown that by following WCRF’s cancer prevention recommendations, individuals can reduce their risk. Screening plays a vital role in improving cancer outcomes – the earlier someone is diagnosed, the more likely they are to survive.”

The charity’s report comes after Cancer Research UK said “ending smoking” would slash the number of deaths from the disease, which is linked to deprived areas.

A study published recently in the journal PLOS One found that if nobody in England smoked then such fatalities would drop from 27 200 to 16 500.

Study details

Socio-economic deprivation and cancer incidence in England: Quantifying the role of smoking

Nick Payne, Katrina Brown, Christine Delon, Yannis Kotrotsios, Isabelle Soerjomataram.

Published in PLOS ONE on 21 September 2022


More deprived populations typically experience higher cancer incidence rates and smoking prevalence compared to less deprived populations. We calculated the proportion of cancer cases attributable to smoking by socio-economic deprivation in England and estimated the impact smoking has on the deprivation gap for cancer incidence.

Data for cancer incidence (2013–2017), smoking prevalence (2003–2007) and population estimates (2013–2017) were split by sex, age-group and deprivation quintile. Relative risk estimates from meta-analyses were used to estimate the population attributable fraction (PAF) for 15 cancer types associated with smoking. The deprivation gap was calculated using age-specific incidence rates by deprivation quintile.

Smoking-related cancer PAFs in England are 2.2 times larger in the most deprived quintile compared to the least deprived quintile (from 9.7% to 21.1%). If everyone had the same smoking prevalence as the least deprived quintile, 20% of the deprivation gap in cancer incidence could have been prevented. If nobody smoked, 61% of the deprivation gap could have been prevented.

The majority of the deprivation gap in cancer incidence could have been prevented in England between 2013–2017 if nobody had smoked. Policy makers should ensure that tobacco control policies reduce overall smoking prevalence by tackling smoking inequalities.


Daily Mail article – Bad lifestyles lead to 400 needless cancer cases a day… with junk food, alcohol and sunbathing among the biggest contributors, experts warn (Open access)


See more from MedicalBrief archives:


Lifestyle cancers on the rise in the UK – ONS study


Exercise is top lifestyle change to reduce risk of breast cancer recurrence


Why under-50s cancer is rising – US review


US study finds ‘microbial link’ between Western diet and colon cancer


Artificial sweeteners and increased cancer risk – French cohort study


UK-China genetic study confirms that alcohol is a direct cause of cancer





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