Sunburn, smoking, alcohol and obesity fuelling rising cancer rates

Cancer Research UK

New statistics from Cancer Research UK reveal steep rises in cancers linked to excessive sun exposure, alcohol, smoking and obesity.

Rates of melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, have risen by over 40 per cent in the past decade, making it the fastest rising cancer in the UK. Incidence of mouth, womb, and kidney cancers has also shown rapid increases in the last 10 years.

Cancer Research UK is worried about the increases as some cases of these cancers are potentially avoidable. Research suggests that around half of all cancers could be prevented by changes to lifestyle.

The good news is that rates of cervical cancers are falling as a result of the national screening programme and thanks to successful smoking cessation campaigns, lung cancer rates are continuing to decrease, especially in men.

The figures - published by Cancer Research UK and the UK Association of Cancer Registries (UKACR) - found that although rates of malignant melanoma are higher in women and have doubled since the mid-80s, rates have tripled in men in the same period. Heavy sun exposure accounts for the vast majority of cases.

Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UK's director of health information, said: "We're very concerned that cases of malignant melanoma are spiralling. Exposure to UV radiation in sunlight is the main cause of skin cancer. Most cases of this disease could be prevented if people protected themselves in the sun and took care not to burn."

Mouth cancer rates have increased by almost a quarter over the last decade. Sara Hiom said: "Most cases of mouth cancer occur in people who smoke or chew tobacco and regularly drink alcohol. As well as encouraging people to reduce their risk of mouth cancer, our priority is to raise awareness of the early warning signs of the disease, as this helps doctors find cancers at an early stage when treatment is easier and there is a good chance of a cure."

Over the last 10 years womb cancer rates have increased by over 20 per cent. It is unclear exactly what causes womb cancer, but there are some things that are known to increase a woman’s risk. Overweight and obese women are twice as likely to develop womb cancer as women of a healthy weight. This is due to higher than normal exposure to the hormone oestrogen and postmenopausal women who are overweight or obese tend to have higher levels of oestrogen in their bodies.

Rates of kidney cancer have increased by more than 10 per cent over the past decade with smoking and being overweight two of the major risk factors for this disease. Scientists believe smoking doubles the risk of kidney cancer but suggest that the risk of developing the disease falls when people give up smoking.

Lucy Morrish, statistical information manager at Cancer Research UK, who compiled the figures, said: "While incidence rates for some cancers have fallen over the past decade, others are rising and many of these cases could be prevented if people avoided excessive sun exposure, smoking and obesity and limited their alcohol intake. Our Reduce the Risk campaign actively encourages people to learn how they can lead healthier lives and cut their risk of developing cancer."

Sara Hiom added: "Everyone can help reduce their risk of cancer by avoiding smoking, keeping a healthy body weight, eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruit, vegetables and fibre and taking regular exercise. Enjoying the sun safely and avoiding sunburn also helps to reduce cancer risk and we encourage people to get to know their bodies and see their doctor if they notice anything unusual - and attend screening when invited."

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Notes to Editor

10 YEARS % CHANGE
Type of cancer 10 year % change* Number of newly diagnosed cases, 1995 Number of newly diagnosed cases, 2004 % of all cancers, 2004
Malignant Melanoma 43% 5,783 8,939 3.1%
Oral 23% 3,696 4,769 1.7%
Uterus (womb) 21% 5,018 6,438 2.3%
Kidney 14% 5,636 7,044 2.5%

*Based on European age-standardised rates per 100,000

Read the full incidence report online.

SunSmart campaign

SunSmart is the UK's national skin cancer prevention campaign, commissioned by the UK Health Departments and run by Cancer Research UK. The SunSmart messages are:

  • Spend time in the shade between 11 and 3. The summer sun is most damaging to your skin in the middle of the day.
  • Make sure you never burn. Sunburn can double your risk of skin cancer.
  • Aim to cover up with a t-shirt, hat and sunglasses. When the sun is at its peak sunscreen is not enough.
  • Remember to take extra care with children. Young skin is delicate. Keep babies out of the sun especially around midday.
  • Then use factor 15+ sunscreen. Apply sunscreen generously and reapply often.
  • ...Also report mole changes or unusual skin growths promptly to your doctor.

Find out more at www.sunsmart.org.uk.

Open Up to Mouth Cancer campaign

Open Up to Mouth Cancer is a national campaign commissioned by the Department of Health and run by Cancer Research UK. The aim of the campaign is to raise awareness of mouth cancer and methods for its effective prevention and early detection, especially among at-risk groups. The early warning signs of mouth cancer include:

  • an ulcer or sore in your mouth
  • a red or white patch in your mouth
  • an unexplained pain in your mouth or ear
  • an unexplained lump in your neck
  • a sore or painful throat
  • a croaky voice or difficultly swallowing
  • See your doctor or dentist if any of these symptoms last longer than three weeks.

Reduce the Risk campaign

Research suggests that around half of all cancers could be prevented by changes to lifestyle. Cancer Research UK's Reduce the Risk campaign highlights five ways you can lower your cancer risk:

  • Stop smoking - It's the best present you'll ever give yourself
  • Stay in shape - Be active and keep a healthy body weight
  • Eat and drink healthily - Limit alcohol and choose a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables
  • Be SunSmart - Protect your self in the sun and take care not to burn
  • Look after number one - Know your body and see your doctor about anything unusual. Go for screening when invited
  • For more information about the campaign visit www.reducetherisk.org.uk.

United Kingdom Association of Cancer Registries (UKACR)

The UKACR aims to promote and develop cancer registration in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. It works to improve the consistency and accuracy of cancer registration data, through the resolution of coding and classification issues, helping to ensure the availability of timely, accurate cancer statistics. For further information, please visit www.ukacr.org.

Cancer Research UK

  • Together with its partners and supporters, Cancer Research UK's vision is to beat cancer.
  • Cancer Research UK carries out world-class research to improve understanding of the disease and find out how to prevent, diagnose and treat different kinds of cancer.
  • Cancer Research UK ensures that its findings are used to improve the lives of all cancer patients.
  • Cancer Research UK helps people to understand cancer, the progress that is being made and the choices each person can make.
  • Cancer Research UK works in partnership with others to achieve the greatest impact in the global fight against cancer.
  • For further information about Cancer Research UK's work or to find out how to support the charity, please call 020 7009 8820 or visit www.cancerresearchuk.org.uk.