Cancer risk statistics

Lifetime risk

1 in 2 people born after 1960 in the UK will be diagnosed with some form of cancer during their lifetime

Prevention

Preventable cases of cancer, UK

Smoking

Smoking is the largest single cause of cancer each year in the UK

  • 1 in 2 people in the UK born after 1960 will be diagnosed with some form of cancer during their lifetime.
  • The risk of developing cancer up to the age of 50 years is 1 in 35 for men and 1 in 20 for women.
  • Females have the highest lifetime risk of breast, lung and bowel cancers.
  • Males have the highest lifetime risk of prostate, lung and bowel cancers.
  • Lifetime risk has increased since the 1970s because of increases in cancer incidence and life expectancy.

See more in-depth statistics on lifetime risk of being diagnosed with cancer

  • A person’s risk of developing cancer depends on many factors, including age, genetics, and exposure to risk factors (including some potentially avoidable lifestyle factors).
  • 4 in 10 (42%) of cancer cases in the UK each year are linked to lifestyle factors.
  • In the last 5 years, almost 600,000 cancer cases in the UK could have been prevented.
  • Smoking is the largest single cause of cancer in the UK, linked to an estimated 19% of cancer cases in the UK each year. Lung cancer has the highest proportion of smoking-linked cases.
  • Diet (too little fruit, vegetables and fibre; too much red and processed meat and salt) is linked to an estimated 9% of cancer cases in the UK each year. Upper aero-digestive tract cancers (oral cavity and pharynx, oesophageal, and larynx) have the highest proportion of diet-linked cases.
  • Overweight and obesity is linked to an estimated 5% of cancer cases in the UK each year. Uterine, kidney and oesophageal cancers have the highest proportions of bodyweight-linked cases.
  • Alcohol is linked to an estimated 4% of cancer cases in the UK each year. Upper aero-digestive tract cancers (oral cavity and pharynx, larynx, and oesophageal) have the highest proportion of alcohol-linked cases.
  • Cervical, mesothelioma, oral, larynx, oesophageal and lung cancers have the highest proportions of cases linked to lifestyle factors. Prostate and testicular cancers have no established lifestyle factor links.
  • Certain medical conditions or immune system problems, and some medicines or treatments, may relate to higher risk of some cancer types.

See more about preventable cancer cases

  • Cigarette smoking is the single most important cause of preventable death in the UK.
  • Around 1 in 5 UK adults currently smoke cigarettes, around 10.2 million people.
  • Cigarette smoking prevalence among adults has decreased since the late 1940s.
  • In recent years the difference between men and women in cigarette smoking prevalence has narrowed.
  • Cigarette smoking prevalence is higher in more deprived areas and underpins socio-economic variation in incidence and mortality for a number of cancer types.
  • Worldwide, 1 billion adults (800 million men and 200 million women) currently smoke cigarettes.
  • Around 11,000 deaths per year in the UK are caused by second-hand smoke, four-fifths occurring at home and the rest from the workplace.

See more in-depth statistics on tobacco

  • Around 5% of children under 16 in the UK smoke regularly.
  • Around a quarter of children have tried smoking, and girls are much more likely than boys to smoke.
  • Around 40% of regular smokers in Great Britain began smoking before age 16.
  • Around 7 million smokers in 2012 in the UK started smoking before the age of 18.
  • Around 150,000 children aged 11-15 started smoking in 2012 in the UK but the number of new childhood smokers each year is falling.

See more in-depth statistics on childhood smoking

  • Alcohol causes an estimated 4% of all cancer cases in the UK each year.
  • Nearly 6 in 10 adults in Great Britain drank alcohol at least once in the past week.
  • Alcohol drinking prevalence among adults in Great Britain peaks in middle-age.
  • Alcohol drinking prevalence among adults in Great Britain has decreased since 2005, this is mainly due to declining prevalence among younger adults.
  • Around half of adults in Great Britain who drank alcohol at least once in the past week exceeded the recommended daily alcohol limit on their heaviest drinking day.
  • Alcohol drinking prevalence among adults in Great Britain is higher in employed people compared with unemployed or economically inactive people.
  • Under 1 in 10 children aged 11-15 in England drank alcohol at least once in the past week. Alcohol drinking prevalence in children increases with age, and rates have decreased since 2003.

See more in-depth statistics on alcohol

  • Overweight and obesity causes an estimated 5% of all cancer cases in the UK each year.
  • Around 6 in 10 UK adults are overweight or obese (body mass index 25 or more).
  • Overweight and obesity prevalence among adults in the UK increases until late middle-age and then decreases in the elderly.
  • Overweight and obesity prevalence among adults in England has increased since the early 1990s.
  • Overweight and obesity prevalence among women in England is higher in lower-income households compared with higher-income households, but in men there is no association with household income.
  • Around 3 in 10 children aged 2-15 in the UK are overweight or obese by body mass index. Overweight and obesity prevalence in children increases with age.

See more in-depth statistics on overweight and obesity

Incidence lifetime risk statistics were calculated from UK incidence 2010 data.

Preventable cancer statistics were calculated from UK incidence 2011 data.

Tobacco use statistics are for the UK, 2013.

Childhood smoking statistics are for England, 2012.

Alcohol drinking statistics are for Great Britain, 2012.

Overweight and obesity statistics are for England, Wales and Scotland, 2012 and Northern Ireland 2011-12.

Other comparative statistics

Citation

You are welcome to reuse this Cancer Research UK statistics content for your own work.

Credit us as authors by referencing Cancer Research UK as the primary source. Suggested styles are:

Web content: Cancer Research UK, full URL of the page, Accessed [month] [year]. 

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Acknowledgements

We would like to acknowledge the essential work of the cancer registries in the United Kingdom and Ireland Association of Cancer Registries, without which there would be no data.

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