In 1983 around 2,600 men were diagnosed with oesophageal cancer – cancer of the food pipe – and according to the latest figures around 5,100 men were diagnosed with the disease.
The most dramatic rise was among men in their 50s, as rates increased by 67 per cent over the same period.
Rates in women also rose, but only by eight per cent, from 5.1 to 5.5 per 100,000 people.
Professor Janusz Jankowski, a Cancer Research UK funded clinician at the Barts & The London School of Medicine & Dentistry, said: “We don’t know exactly why we’re seeing this steep rise in oesophageal cancer rates, and why it’s having such a dramatic effect on men.
“But we think the obesity epidemic may be a big reason behind the increase. We know that being overweight significantly increases the risk of adenocarcinoma – the main type of oesophageal cancer that’s on the up. Our changing diets are also likely to be influencing the rise with people eating less fruit and vegetables.
“To investigate why men are more at risk of developing this type of oesophageal cancer, we’re studying the genetic changes that are behind this type of the disease.”
In 1983, 9.6 in every 100,000 men were diagnosed with oesophageal cancer but now 14.4 in every 100,000 men are diagnosed with the disease – an increase of 50 per cent.
Fewer people are infected with a bacterium called H. pylori, which reduces the risk of oesophageal cancer, may also be a factor. But the bacterium is also known to increase the risk of stomach cancer which has been declining steadily over a number of years.
Oesophageal cancer is the ninth most common cancer in the UK. In 2007, around 8,000 people were diagnosed with oesophageal cancer. The risk of developing the disease increases with age and affects very few people under 40.
Oesophageal cancer is one of the most difficult cancers to detect and treat, with only eight per cent of people with the disease surviving at least five years.
Dr Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at Cancer Research UK, said: “These new figures are particularly concerning as oesophageal cancer is a very difficult cancer to treat. Oesophageal cancer rates have risen dramatically in the UK compared with many other Western countries so we need to determine the underlying causes. To combat the poor survival rate for oesophageal cancer, Cancer Research UK is funding research to find new ways to identify the disease earlier and improve treatment so that more people beat the disease.”
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