For decades, research has shown that smoking can lead to cancer, but people still smoke. Other connections between preventable behaviors and cancer have been detailed in countless studies. But new data from Cancer Research UK drives the message home clearly that more than four of the top 10 cancers could have been avoidable with lifestyle changes.
Every year, millions of people are diagnosed with preventable cancers. Others can avoid developing many cancers by leading healthier lives, according to Cancer Research UK chief Harpal Kumar. He pointed out that, besides investing in health campaigns and educating people on ways to reduce their risk of cancer, the government urgently needs to take action to stop people from starting smoking. “Cancer is set to be an ongoing challenge and one which needs careful planning and investment across prevention, diagnosis, and treatment,” Kumar noted.
The reports estimated that 42 percent of cancer cases per year in the UK are tied to one or more of 14 major lifestyle and other avoidable risk factors. The proportion is higher in men (45 percent) than women (40), the Cancer Research UK information also points out. While the data studied is based on UK health information, the risk factors undoubtedly apply in other Western cultures with similar lifestyles, such as the United States and Canada.
The biggest avoidable risk is smoking, which is well known. The second biggest avoidable risk is diet-related, which many people do not realize is tied to types of cancers. The perception is that poor diet affects heart health and diabetes, but processed foods and others have been shown to cause cancer.
The UK data, showed that out of 587,000 cancer cases studied between 2007 and 2011, more than 300,000 cases of cancer recorded were linked to smoking. A further 145,000 were attributed to unhealthy diets consisting of too much processed or salty foods and too little fruits and vegetables. Obesity was related to more than 88,000 cases and alcohol to over 62,000. Damage to skin from UV radiation and inadequate physical inactivity were fifth and sixth on the list.
Cancer Research UK’s leading expert on cancer prevention, Professor Linda Bauld, noted, “There are more than 200 types of cancers each caused by a complex set of factors – involving both our genes and our lifestyles.” She added, however, that there are proven ways to minimize cancer risk. Bauld emphasized the need to “make sure the public and the policy-makers know the evidence behind the benefits of these lifestyle changes is solid.”
While leading a healthy lifestyle will not guarantee being cancer free, the experts are encouraging people to stack the odds in their favor. Why are they emphasizing now the information that 40 percent of the cancer victims could have evaded cancer? It is New Year’s resolution time and Cancer Research UK (and probably public health officials in the U.S. and other countries too) would love to see more people resolve to make changes to their lives to help prevent the four in 10 cancers that are avoidable as well as other illnesses.
By Dyanne Weiss