Lifestyle Changes Could Mitigate Thousands of Cancers Each Week

Smoking and obesity account for a significant number of cancers worldwide.

Implementing certain lifestyle changes could prevent more than 2500 cases of cancer each week in the UK alone, new findings published by the British Journal of Cancer suggest.

Modifiable risk factors such as weight and smoking status are known to affect cancer risk. Despite this, many people worldwide continue to partake in a lifestyle that could lead to cancer. By changing lifestyle factors, nearly 38% of all cancers in the UK and 41.5% of cancers in Scotland could be avoided, according to the study.

"Leading a healthy life doesn't guarantee that a person won't get cancer, but it can stack the odds in your favor. These figures show that we each can take positive steps to help reduce our individual risk of the disease,” said Harpal Kumar, CEO, Cancer Research UK. "This research clearly demonstrates the impact of smoking and obesity on cancer risk. Prevention is the most cost-effective way of beating cancer and the UK Government could do much more to help people by making a healthy choice the easy choice."

The authors reported that tobacco smoke accounted for 17.7% of male cancers and 12.4% of female cancers in 2015. Additionally, 6.3% of cancers per year are caused by excess weight, accounting for 7.5% of female cancers and 5.2% of male cancers, according to the study.

It is well-known that obesity causes 13 types of cancers, including breast cancer. The new findings suggest that more than 1 in 20 cancers could be prevented by maintaining a healthy weight.

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Another significant contributor to preventable cancers is UV exposure, which accounts for 13,600 cases of melanoma in the UK each year, according to the study.

The authors noted that other preventable cancers are driven by drinking alcohol, poor diet, and air pollution. Although pollution is responsible for 3600 cases of lung cancers, it still causes fewer cases than tobacco.

"These new figures show that the battle to conquer smoking-related cancer is far from over,” Linda Bauld, prevention expert, Cancer Research UK. “But the declining numbers of smokers show that prevention strategies are working.”