It’s not just down to fate: How simple lifestyle changes can prevent four in 10 cancer cases
- Smoking triggers nearly 20% of cancers, new study reveals
- 2,700 cancers could be avoided if women breastfed
Deadly drag: Smoking is the biggest cause of cancer, triggering more than 19.4per cent of cases
Making small lifestyle changes could prevent more than four in ten cancers, according to a major study.
Scientists have calculated that at least 134,000 cases diagnosed in Britain last year were triggered by causes such as smoking, obesity, poor diet, alcohol or even not breastfeeding.
They say that although many of us are resigned to the belief that getting cancer is just down to fate, tweaking our lifestyle can dramatically reduce our odds.
Researchers analysed hundreds of studies on the causes of the most common forms of the disease to work out how many were the result of lifestyle or environmental factors.
They calculated that 40 per cent of cancers in women were preventable compared with 45 per cent in men.
Smoking was by far the biggest cause. Researchers calculated it was responsible for nearly 61,000 cases diagnosed last year, nearly a fifth of the total.
As well as being the main cause of lung cancer, the study found it greatly increased the risk of many other forms of the disease, including those affecting the mouth, throat, bowel, liver, kidney, bladder and cervix.
Poor diet, which included too much red meat or salt or not enough fruit, vegetables or fibre was responsible for 9 per cent of cases – nearly 30,000 a year – the study, published in the British Journal of Cancer, found.
Obesity was found to be responsible for 5 per cent of all cancers – more than 17,000 a year – the majority affecting the bowel and breast.
But the scientists admit this is a ‘conservative’ estimate as it is likely that excess fat may trigger many other tumours, including prostate.
Alcohol led to 4 per cent of cases, 12,500 a year, including bowel, breast, mouth and throat, the study by the Universities of London and Oxford found.
The researchers said that while it was unrealistic to tell the public to adopt perfectly healthy lifestyles, they could greatly ‘tilt the odds’ of cancer by changing habits.
Professor Max Parkin said: ‘It is clear that around 40 per cent are caused by things we mostly have the power to change.’
He added that it in future it was likely that scientists would discover that many more cancers are preventable as they learn more about causes.
Solar radiation from sunbeds was found to be responsible for 3.5 per cent of cases – which were all skin cancer. A person’s job was found to be responsible for 3.7 per cent of cases.
Most of these were caused by exposure to harmful chemicals such as asbestos.
Dr Harpal Kumar of Cancer Research said: ‘Most healthcare systems in the world are spending disproportionate levels of resources. There is a strong case to be made for more resources being spent on prevention.’
Dr Rachel Thompson, of the World Cancer Research Fund, said: ‘We hope this helps to raise awareness that cancer is not simply a question of fate and that people can make changes today that can reduce their risk.’
Sir Richard Thompson, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said: ‘These figures are a wake-up call to the Government to take stronger action on public health.
‘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.’
Women who have mammograms halve their risk of death from breast cancer, says a study.
The greatest reduction was in women aged 70 to 75, where it was 84 per cent. Among those 50 to 69, the cut was 39 per cent.
Researchers observed 755 patients who died from breast cancer during 1995 to 2003 and matched them with 3,739 controls.
They found 29.8 per cent of cancers were found at screening, 34.3 per cent between screenings while 35.9 per cent had not been screened.
The study was in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.
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