Everyday changes to diet and exercise could avoid 26,000 cases of cancer a year in women

Cancer Research UK

Around 500 cases of cancer in women every week in the UK could be prevented by keeping a healthy weight and increasing exercise.

“These figures show the positive everyday steps we can each take to help reduce our individual risk. Leading a healthy life doesn’t guarantee that a person won’t get cancer, but it can stack the odds in your favour. We’re also campaigning for the government to create an environment where it’s easier for us all to live healthier lives, including a ban on junk food TV adverts before the 9pm watershed.” - Alison Cox, Cancer Research UK

The latest figures, calculated from 2015 cancer data, found that whilst smoking remains the biggest preventable cause of cancer**, everyday changes to live a little more healthily can have a large impact.

By keeping a healthy weight, drinking less alcohol, eating more fibre, cutting down on processed meat and being more active, more than 26,000 cancer cases in women could be avoided each year. This equates to 15% of all cancers diagnosed in women each year in the UK. More than 24,000 cases of cancer in men could also be avoided with the same approach.

By upping their activity levels, women can help reduce their risk of two of the most common cancers, bowel and breast cancer. Cancer Research UK is encouraging women across the UK to take part in a Race for Life this summer, as a great way to kick start a more active lifestyle. Race for Life is a series of women-only events which raises money for research into over 200 types of cancer affecting men, women and children.

Alison Cox, Cancer Research UK’s director of prevention, said: “Whilst not smoking remains the most important way to reduce cancer risk, the impact of diet and exercise to keep a healthy weight cannot be ignored. These figures show the positive everyday steps we can each take to help reduce our individual risk. Leading a healthy life doesn’t guarantee that a person won’t get cancer, but it can stack the odds in your favour. We’re also campaigning for the government to create an environment where it’s easier for us all to live healthier lives, including a ban on junk food TV adverts before the 9pm watershed.”

Holly Dowler, 28, decided to overhaul her lifestyle after seeing several family members be affected by cancer. Since last year, she has lost seven stone.

Holly says: “In 2006, when I was in my late teens I lost my nan and aunt to cancer. Two years later another aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer. I’ve always worried about my likelihood of getting cancer as it’s affected so many members of my family.

“I’d always been very overweight but after having my son, who’s now three, I realised that I needed to lose weight to set a good example.  I joined a slimming club, started going to the gym and discovered a love of running. I feel like a totally different person. I’m more active and have more zest for life. I thought ‘Let’s not give cancer any more chances with me – let’s do something about it and help reduce my risk’.”

Holly took part in a 10k Race for Life event in May.

Race for Life is the UK’s largest fundraising event series with over 400 events taking place across the UK from May. Participants can run, walk or jog at Race for Life.  Since it began, over 8 million women have participated in Race for Life, raising over £820m for vital work into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of all 200 types of cancer affecting men, women and children.

ENDS

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References

* Data from Brown et al. The fraction of cancer attributable to known risk factors in England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and the UK overall in 2015. British Journal of Cancer. DOI: 10.1038/s41416-018-0029-6

The total number of preventable cases for all the above factors combined is calculated to account for some cancer cases having more than one cause, and so is less than the simple sum of the numbers above. For more detail on the calculation method please see the source paper.

** Tobacco smoke caused around 22,000 cases of cancer (12.4% of all cases of cancer) in UK women in 2015. Source: Brown et al, as above.