Healthy lifestyle could prevent many cancers

In collaboration with the Press Association

A report by World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) has calculated that over 40 per cent of breast and bowel cancer cases in the UK could be prevented if people led healthier lifestyles.

The 'Policy and Action for Cancer Prevention' report, which was collated by a panel of 23 world-renowned experts, sets out recommendations for governments and individuals on how to reduce their cancer risk.

The report authors estimate that 43 per cent of bowel cancer cases and 42 per cent of breast cancer cases in the UK could be prevented if people ate more healthily, did regular exercise and maintained a suitable weight.

The incidence of a number of other common cancers could also be reduced in this way, including mouth, pharynx and larynx (67 per cent), oesophagus (75 per cent) and womb cancers (56 per cent).

Professor Martin Wiseman, project director of the report, commented: "The figures in this report have been agreed by the most eminent of scientists and they are as accurate as they can be with the available data.

"On a global level every year, there are millions of cancer cases that could have been prevented and this is why we need to act now before the situation gets even worse."

Professor Wiseman predicted that cancer rates will increase as a result of ageing populations, soaring obesity rates, low levels of physical activity and increased consumption of unhealthy foods.

"The good news is that this is not inevitable and we still have the chance to avert a crisis before it is too late," he claimed.

Richard Davidson, Cancer Research UK's director of policy and public affairs, said: "Around 13,000 cancer cases in the UK are linked to being overweight or obese. And even more are linked to poor diets, drinking too much alcohol and not doing enough exercise. After smoking, these are some of the biggest preventable causes of cancer.

"Doing nothing could be disastrous. We've been working hard to raise awareness of this link for many years and we welcome this report in highlighting the need for a truly integrated approach to cancer prevention.

"There is no magic bullet, no one single fix to the problem. If we are to tackle the situation we need individuals, business and government to work together to encourage healthy lifestyles by promoting things like cycle lanes and food labelling."

The report contains 48 recommendations for multinational bodies, civil society organisations, governments, industry, media, schools, workplaces, health professionals and members of the public.

For instance, the experts believe that food manufacturers should make public health a priority at all stages of production, while health professionals should provide people with information on cancer prevention.

Overall, the report authors insist that all sections of society should make public health and cancer prevention a higher priority.

Professor Sir Michael Marmot, chair of the WCRF panel, said that by making relatively simple changes, the number of people with cancer could be reduced.

"This report is relevant to everyone from heads of government to the people who do the weekly food shopping for their family," he said.

"We have been fairly specific about what different groups need to do. But the report's overall message is that everyone needs to make public health in general, and cancer prevention in particular, more of a priority."

Professor Mike Richards, the government's cancer tsar, said: "The evidence linking diet, physical activity, obesity and cancer has become stronger over the last decade and this report can play a part in people adopting healthier lifestyles. "After not smoking, it is clear that diet, physical activity and weight are the most important things people can do to reduce their cancer risk."