Over-55s lack cancer awareness

In collaboration with the Press Association

Older people - who are most likely to develop cancer - are least aware of how to reduce their risk, according to a new survey.

Despite the strong evidence linking weight, diet, alcohol and inactivity to cancer, a World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) survey of 1,975 people has found that only 56 per cent of over-55s are aware of the link between poor diet and cancer and 54 per cent knew that being overweight increases a person's risk of cancer.

Similarly, 45 per cent knew that excessive alcohol consumption increases the risk of cancer, while just 38 per cent realised that not being physically active could raise their likelihood of the disease.

For all these cancer causes, awareness was lower in the over-55s than in the general population.

Commenting on the survey, which was conducted by YouGov, the WCRF's head of education Lisa Cooney said: "The scientific evidence that we can reduce our cancer risk by making healthy lifestyle choices is overwhelming, so it is a real concern that so many older people are not aware of this.

"This is because if people do not know what increases and reduces risk then they are not in a position to make informed choices about their lifestyle."

Ms Cooney also noted that it is "never too late to start thinking about cancer prevention", adding: "No matter how old you are, you can make lifestyle changes that can reduce your cancer risk."

However, overall levels of awareness have improved since a similar survey was conducted in 2007, a situation Ms Cooney described as "really positive".

But she noted: "We are still nowhere near a position where the links between cancer and diet and physical activity are as widely known as the link with smoking.

"The survey also showed that 90 per cent of people are aware of the smoking link, so there is still a long way to go before this happens."

Jessica Harris, Cancer Research UK's health information officer, commented: "Living a healthy life can have a real impact on cancer risk, so we want everyone to know about the positive steps they can take to reduce their risk of cancer.

"It's worrying to see that awareness of these risks is lower among older people, especially since three quarters of cancers are in people aged 60 or over."