Healthy lifestyles could prevent an estimated 80,000 cases of cancer each year
A report from the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) estimates that nearly 80,000 cases of cancer could be prevented each year in the UK alone if people ate healthy diets, exercised regularly and maintained a suitable weight.
The figures suggest that, if everyone in the UK adopted these three key lifestyle changes, around 78,700 cases of 12 common cancers could be prevented - including over 19,000 cases of breast cancer and over 16,000 cases of bowel cancer.
But people's awareness of these important lifestyle measures is low, with just 60 per cent recognising the link between diet and cancer, and even fewer knowing about the links between cancer and body fat (59 per cent) and physical activity (45 per cent).
Scientists at the WCRF are concerned that not enough people know the simple steps to take to reduce their risk of the disease.
Professor Martin Wiseman, medical and scientific adviser at the charity, said: "These estimates set out in stark terms just how high the stakes are and show what could be achieved through making relatively simple lifestyle changes.
"Many people still think of cancer as a question of fate but this emphasises that people can significantly reduce their risk by eating healthily, being physically active and maintaining a healthy weight."
The professor continued: "When you consider that these estimates do not include the cancers that would be prevented through not smoking, it is clear that cancer is actually a largely preventable disease."
While leading a healthy lifestyle does not guarantee a person will not develop cancer, Professor Wiseman noted that "tens of thousands of cases" could be prevented in this way.
"More needs to be done to get the message across, because it is only when people are aware of what the science is saying that they are in a position to make their own informed lifestyle choices," he added.
Dr Laura Bell, science information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: "It's been known for a long time that thousands of cases of cancer could be prevented by changes to lifestyle.
"Giving up smoking is the most important way to reduce cancer risk. Cutting down on alcohol, keeping a healthy weight, being physically active and avoiding sunburn and sunbeds is also important. As is eating a healthy, balanced diet high in fibre, fruit and vegetables and low in red and processed meat, saturated fat and salt.
"It's worrying that many people don't know about the links between lifestyle and cancer risk. It's important to raise awareness of the cancer risks that most of us can do something about."