Lifestyle responsible for four in 10 cancer cases

More than four in 10 cancers – 600,000 in the UK alone – could be prevented if people led healthier lives, say experts.Latest figures from Cancer Research UK show smoking is the biggest avoidable risk factor, followed by unhealthy diets.The charity is urging people to consider their health when making New Year resolutions. Limiting alcohol intake and doing regular exercise is also good advice. According to the figures spanning five years from 2007 to 2011, more than 300,000 cases of cancer recorded were linked to smoking.

A further 145,000 were linked to unhealthy diets containing too much processed food. Obesity contributed to 88,000 cases and alcohol to 62,200. Sun damage to the skin and physical inactivity were also contributing factors. Prof Max Parkin, a Cancer Research UK statistician based at Queen Mary University of London, said: “There’s now little doubt that certain lifestyle choices can have a big impact on cancer risk, with research around the world all pointing to the same key risk factors.

“Of course everyone enjoys some extra treats during the Christmas holidays so we don’t want to ban mince pies and wine but it’s a good time to think about taking up some healthy habits for 2015. “Leading a healthy lifestyle can’t guarantee someone won’t get cancer but we can stack the odds in our favour by taking positive steps now that will help decrease our cancer risk in future.”

Public Health England says a healthy lifestyle can play a vital role in reducing cancer risk. It says campaigns such as Smokefree, Dry January and Change4Life Sugar Swaps all aim to raise public awareness. Meanwhile, there will be a record 2.5 million people living with a cancer diagnosis in the UK in 2015, an analysis by Macmillan Cancer Support predicts. The charity says the surge will create a crisis of “unmanageable proportions”, despite improvements in survival and diagnosis being partly behind the rise. It says political parties need to take urgent action.

Department of Health officials say survival rates are now at their highest ever in England. As numbers surge, the NHS will soon be unable to cope with the huge increase in demand for health services” The report says the growing older population has contributed to the rise – an increase of almost half a million people “living with cancer” in the last five years.

The figure includes people who are undergoing treatment and those who have been given the all-clear.

Lynda Thomas of Macmillan Cancer Support says: “While it is great news that more people are surviving cancer or living longer with it, progress is a double-edged sword.

“As numbers surge, the NHS will soon be unable to cope with the huge increase in demand for health services. “As we are threatened by a cancer crisis of unmanageable proportions, all political parties must step up and make a real commitment to supporting people with cancer.” The charity estimates around a quarter of people treated for cancer in the UK continue to need NHS care after being clear of the disease.

John Pearson, 47, who was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2006, said: “Eight years on from my diagnosis I’m still suffering fatigue and permanent nerve damage to my legs, hips and arms from the chemotherapy. “I try to stay positive as I’ve survived cancer but I’m living with the long-term side-effects of treatment. “I wish I could do without the health services but I can’t – I see my GP for help with pain control, and have to visit the hospital for colonoscopies, neurology, and physiotherapy.”

Dr Fran Woodward from Macmillan Cancer Support says the NHS “will struggle” to deal with the increasing number of cancer patients. Cancer Research UK’s head of statistical information, Nick Ormiston-Smith, said: “Cancer is mainly a disease of old age so as we live longer, more people will develop the disease.”

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