Nearly half of cancers diagnosed in the UK each year are caused by life choices including smoking, drinking and eating the wrong things, a review by Cancer Research UK has revealed.
Instead of ‘fate’ leading to people getting cancer, simple choices like quitting smoking and eating five portions of fruit and vegetables can dramatically cut the risk of contracting it.
Tobacco is the biggest culprit, causing 23% of cases in men and 15.6% in women, says the report. Next comes a lack of fresh fruit and vegetables in men’s diets, while for women it is being overweight.
The report is published in the British Journal of Cancer, and its authors claim it is the most comprehensive analysis to date on the subject.
Lead author Professor Max Parkin said: “Many people believe cancer is down to fate or ‘in the genes’ and that it is the luck of the draw whether they get it.
“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.”
Overall, 34% of cancers in 2010 (106,845) were linked to smoking, diet, drinking alcohol and excess weight. Another 30,000 cases were caused by another 14 lifestyle and environmental factors taken into account.
Ciarán Devane, chief executive at Macmillan Cancer Support, said healthy lifestyle messages were not getting through. “No one chooses to have cancer and it would be wrong to blame people for making wrong lifestyle choices,” he told The Guardian.
“For a long time, people have been told that eating healthily, not smoking and exercising regularly can benefit them, and these figures show again the impact a healthy lifestyle can have. Yet these healthy lifestyle messages are clearly not reaching enough people. They also need to be made more relatable to people’s everyday lives.
“We know that being physically active reduces recurrence rates of cancer too, as well as your chance of getting it in the first place. There needs to be a cultural change, so that people see physical activity as an integral part of their lives, not just an optional add-on.”