Healthier lifestyle key to avoiding cancer

40% of many common cancers are avoidable, says report

More than 40% of some of the most common cancers, including those of the breast, bowel and stomach, could be prevented if we all had healthier lifestyles, a major report said yesterday.

Contrary to popular belief, most cancer is not inevitable, says the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) report. A quarter of all cancers in the UK (26%) could be prevented. That rises to three-quarters of oesophageal cancers, 67% of mouth, pharynx and larynx cancers and 56% of cancers of the lining of the womb.

Junk food habits, drinking and lack of exercise lie behind much of the epidemic, the study found. Genes play a part, but often a minor one.

Overall, more cancers are preventable in the UK than in the three other countries studied for the report. In the UK, 26% are preventable, in the US 24%, in China 20% and in Brazil 19%.

The authors say increased drinking in the UK is a major reason. ‘Over time, the UK has experienced the most amazing increase in alcohol consumption over the last 20 years of any country on the planet,’ said Professor Elio Riboli, head of the division of epidemiology, public health and primary care at Imperial College‘s faculty of medicine.

Sir Michael, research professor of epidemiology and public health at University College London and chair of the World Health Organisation’s commission on the social determinants of health, also pointed out that obesity is most prevalent in poor areas, where junk food outlets abound.

The report calls on a range of bodies, from government to schools to individuals, to take action. It says schools should provide only healthy food and abandon vending machines, and that employers should consider how to help staff cycle or walk to work. The government could increase tax on alcohol and introduce clear food labelling.

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