Statistics on preventable cancers

An estimated 42% of cancer cases each year in the UK are linked to a combination of 14 major lifestyle and other factors.[1] The proportion is higher in men (45%) than women (40%), mainly due to sex differences in smoking.

Preventable cancer cases by prevention method, UK, 2011

Lifestyle factors

Other factors

The proportion of preventable cases is highest for cervical cancer (due to the link with HPV infection); mesothelioma, oral cavity and pharynx, larynx, oesophagus and lung cancers (due to the link with smoking), and malignant melanoma (due to the link with UV radiation from sunlight and sunbeds).

Many of the most common cancers in the UK have a large proportion of preventable cases. Prostate cancer is a notable exception because it is not clearly linked to any preventable risk factors.[1-15]

References

  1. Parkin DM, Boyd L, Walker LC. The fraction of cancer attributable to lifestyle and environmental factors in the UK in 2010. Summary and conclusions. Br J Cancer 2011;105 (S2):S77-S81.
  2. Parkin DM. Tobacco-attributable cancer burden in the UK in 2010. Br J Cancer 2011;105 (S2):S6-S13.
  3. Parkin DM, Boyd L. Cancers attributable to dietary factors in the UK in 2010. I Low consumption of fruit and vegetables. Br J Cancer 2011;105 (S2):S19-S23.
  4. Parkin DM. Cancers attributable to dietary factors in the UK in 2010. II Meat consumption. Br J Cancer 2011;105 (S2):S24-S26.
  5. Parkin DM, Boyd L. Cancers attributable to dietary factors in the UK in 2010. III Low consumption of fibre. Br J Cancer 2011;105 (S2):S27-S30.
  6. Parkin DM. Cancers attributable to dietary factors in the UK in 2010. IV Salt. Br J Cancer 2011;105 (S2):S31-S33.
  7. Parkin DM, Boyd L. Cancers attributable to overweight and obesity in the UK in 2010. Br J Cancer 2011;105(S2):S34-S37.
  8. Parkin DM. Cancers attributable to consumption of alcohol in the UK in 2010. Br J Cancer 2011;105 (S2):S14-S18.
  9. Parkin DM. Cancers attributable to occupational exposures in the UK in 2010. Br J Cancer 2011;105 (S2):S70-S72.
  10. Parkin DM, Mesher D, Sasieni P. Cancers attributable to solar (ultraviolet) radiation exposure in the UK in 2010. Br J Cancer 2011;105 (S2):S66-S69.
  11. Parkin DM. Cancers attributable to infection in the UK in 2010. Br J Cancer 2011;105 (S2):S49-S56.
  12. Parkin DM, Darby SC. Cancers attributable to ionising radiation exposure in the UK in 2010. Br J Cancer 2011;105 (S2):S57-S65.
  13. Parkin DM. Cancers attributable to inadequate physical exercise in the UK in 2010. Br J Cancer 2011;105 (S2):S38-S41.
  14. Parkin DM. Cancers attributable to reproductive factors in the UK in 2010. Br J Cancer 2011;105 (S2):S73-S76.
  15. Parkin DM. Cancers attributable to exposure to hormones in the UK in 2010. Br J Cancer 2011;105 (S2):S42-S48.
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Preventable cancer cases as a proportion of all cancer cases by cancer type, UK, 2011

All UK cancer cases by type
= Preventable cases

Note that this total will be higher than the sum of cases for each factor as some cancer cases have more than one cause.

Most of the preventable cancers are linked with modifiable lifestyle factors: in the last 5 years, almost 600,000 cancer cases in the UK could have been prevented by people not smoking; maintaining a healthy weight; not drinking alcohol; eating plenty of fruit, vegetables and fibre, avoiding meat and cutting down on salt; being physically active; and avoiding excess UV radiation from sunlight and sunbeds. The other factors discussed on this page are also theoretically avoidable (except for ionising radiation).

When using these estimates it is important to understand the assumptions underpinning them.[1-15]

References

  1. Parkin DM, Boyd L, Walker LC. The fraction of cancer attributable to lifestyle and environmental factors in the UK in 2010. Summary and conclusions. Br J Cancer 2011;105 (S2):S77-S81.
  2. Parkin DM. Tobacco-attributable cancer burden in the UK in 2010. Br J Cancer 2011;105 (S2):S6-S13.
  3. Parkin DM, Boyd L. Cancers attributable to dietary factors in the UK in 2010. I Low consumption of fruit and vegetables. Br J Cancer 2011;105 (S2):S19-S23.
  4. Parkin DM. Cancers attributable to dietary factors in the UK in 2010. II Meat consumption. Br J Cancer 2011;105 (S2):S24-S26.
  5. Parkin DM, Boyd L. Cancers attributable to dietary factors in the UK in 2010. III Low consumption of fibre. Br J Cancer 2011;105 (S2):S27-S30.
  6. Parkin DM. Cancers attributable to dietary factors in the UK in 2010. IV Salt. Br J Cancer 2011;105 (S2):S31-S33.
  7. Parkin DM, Boyd L. Cancers attributable to overweight and obesity in the UK in 2010. Br J Cancer 2011;105(S2):S34-S37.
  8. Parkin DM. Cancers attributable to consumption of alcohol in the UK in 2010. Br J Cancer 2011;105 (S2):S14-S18.
  9. Parkin DM. Cancers attributable to occupational exposures in the UK in 2010. Br J Cancer 2011;105 (S2):S70-S72.
  10. Parkin DM, Mesher D, Sasieni P. Cancers attributable to solar (ultraviolet) radiation exposure in the UK in 2010. Br J Cancer 2011;105 (S2):S66-S69.
  11. Parkin DM. Cancers attributable to infection in the UK in 2010. Br J Cancer 2011;105 (S2):S49-S56.
  12. Parkin DM, Darby SC. Cancers attributable to ionising radiation exposure in the UK in 2010. Br J Cancer 2011;105 (S2):S57-S65.
  13. Parkin DM. Cancers attributable to inadequate physical exercise in the UK in 2010. Br J Cancer 2011;105 (S2):S38-S41.
  14. Parkin DM. Cancers attributable to reproductive factors in the UK in 2010. Br J Cancer 2011;105 (S2):S73-S76.
  15. Parkin DM. Cancers attributable to exposure to hormones in the UK in 2010. Br J Cancer 2011;105 (S2):S42-S48.
Last reviewed:

Smoking is the largest single cause of cancer in the UK. An estimated 19% of cancer cases in the UK each year are linked to exposure to tobacco smoke.[1] The proportion is higher in men (23%) than women (16%), because smoking trends have varied by sex.

Lung cancer has the highest proportion of cases linked to tobacco smoke. Laryngeal, oral cavity and pharynx, and oesophagus cancers also have high smoking-attributable proportions (not including secondhand smoke).

Cancer cases attributable to smoking as a proportion of all cancer cases, by cancer type, UK, 2011

All UK cancer cases by type
= Cases attributable to smoking

 

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An estimated 9% of cancer cases in the UK each year are linked to diet: eating too little fruit and vegetables (5% of cases), eating any red and processed meat (3%), eating too little fibre (2%), or eating too much salt (less than 1%).[1-4]

Upper aero-digestive tract cancers (oral cavity and pharynx, oesophageal, and larynx) have the highest proportions of cases linked to inadequate fruit and vegetables intake.

Cancer cases attributable to dietary factors as a proportion of all cancer cases, by cancer type, UK, 2011

All UK cancer cases by type
= Cases attributable to dietary factors

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An estimated 5% of cancer cases in the UK each year are linked to excess bodyweight. The proportion is higher in women (7%) than men (4%), because some cancers linked to bodyweight occur in females only.[1]

Uterine, kidney and oesophageal cancers have the highest proportions of cases linked to overweight and obesity.

Cancer cases attributable to excess bodyweight as a proportion of all cancer cases, by cancer type, UK, 2011

All UK cancer cases by type
= Cases attributable to excess bodyweight

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An estimated 4% of cancer cases in the UK each year are linked to alcohol consumption.[1]

Upper aero-digestive tract cancers (oral cavity and pharynx, larynx, and oesophageal) have the highest proportions of cases linked to alcohol consumption.

Cancer cases attributable to alcohol as a proportion of all cancer cases, by cancer type, UK, 2011

All UK cancer cases by type
= Cases attributable to alcohol

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An estimated 4% of cancer cases in the UK each year are linked to occupational exposures. The proportion is higher in men (5%) than women (2%), because of past sex differences in occupations.[1]

Mesothelioma has the highest proportion of cases linked to occupational exposures, due to the link with asbestos.

Cancer cases attributable to occupational exposures as a proportion of all cancer cases, by cancer type, UK, 2011

All UK cancer cases by type
= Cases attributable to occupational exposures

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An estimated 3% of cancer cases in the UK each year are linked to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight or sunbeds.[1]

All of these cases were malignant melanoma.

Cancer cases attributable to sunlight and sunbeds as a proportion of all cancer cases, by cancer type, UK, 2011

All UK cancer cases by type
= Cases attributable to sunlight and sunbeds

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An estimated 3% of cancer cases in the UK each year are linked to infections. The proportion is higher in women (4%) than men (3%), largely because all cervical cancers are linked to human papillomavirus (HPV) infection.[1]

Cervical and stomach cancers have the highest proportions of cases linked to infections. HPV and Helicobacter pylori (H pylori) are the infections with the highest proportions of cases linked to them.

Cancer cases attributable to infections as a proportion of all cancer cases, by cancer type, UK, 2011

All UK cancer cases by type
= Cases attributable to infections

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An estimated 2% of cancer cases in the UK each year are linked to ionising radiation exposure (both natural and man-made sources).[1]

Leukaemia and lung cancer have the highest proportions of cases linked to ionising radiation. Medical diagnostic radiation is the source with the highest proportion of cases linked to it.

Cancer cases attributable to radiation as a proportion of all cancer cases, by cancer type, UK, 2011

All UK cancer cases by type
= Cases attributable to radiation

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An estimated 1% of cancer cases in the UK each year are linked to being physically inactive.[1]

Uterine, breast and colon cancers have the highest proportions of cases linked to physical inactivity.

Cancer cases attributable to too little physical activity as a proportion of all cancer cases, by cancer type, UK, 2011

All UK cancer cases by type
= Cases attributable to too little physical activity

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An estimated 2% of cancer cases in women in the UK each year are linked to women breastfeeding for less than 6 months or not at all.[1]

Ovarian and breast cancers have the highest proportions of cases linked to lack of breastfeeding.

Cancer cases attributable to not breastfeeding as a proportion of all cancer cases, by cancer type, UK, 2011

All UK cancer cases by type
= Cases attributable to not breastfeeding

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An estimated 1% of cancer cases in women in the UK each year are linked to use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT).[1]

Breast, uterine and ovarian cancers have the highest proportions of cases linked to HRT use.

Cancer cases attributable to not breastfeeding as a proportion of all cancer cases, by cancer type, UK, 2011

All UK cancer cases by type
= Cases attributable to hormone replacement therapy

Last reviewed:

Other comparative statistics

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