07:38am Wednesday 19 February 2020

UK above European average for women’s cancer rates

About a quarter of women (25 per cent) in the UK develop cancer by this age, compared to about a fifth (21 per cent) across Europe, according to World Health Organization estimates.

Experts have suggested the reasons for the UK having higher than average cancer rate for women include high obesity levels and alcohol consumption.

Dr Rachel Thompson, Deputy Head of Science for WCRF, said: “On average, women in the UK are more likely to be overweight and to drink more alcohol than the European average and this is a concern because both these factors increase cancer risk.

“They are not the only reasons for the differing cancer rates, but there is now very strong evidence that women who drink a lot of alcohol are at increased risk of developing the disease and that excess body fat is also an important risk factor.

“This is why one of the big public health challenges we face today is to reduce the amount of alcohol we drink as a nation and to get a grip on the obesity crisis before it spirals out of control.

‘Together with other factors such as being physically active and eating a healthy plant-based diet without too much salt or red and processed meat, these changes could make a real difference to the number of women who develop cancer before the age of 75.

“Overall, we estimate about a third of the most common cancers could be prevented by eating healthily, being physically active and maintaining a healthy weight. And for breast cancer, which is the most common type of cancer, about four in 10 cases could be prevented through lifestyle changes.

“This means that everyone can make changes to their lifestyle today to reduce their risk of developing cancer in the future.”

There is also strong evidence that breastfeeding can reduce the mother’s risk of breast cancer, with each year of breastfeeding reducing the risk of breast cancer by about four per cent but only a small number of women in the UK breastfeed their babies exclusively for the first six months. This is also likely to be one of the reasons for the high cancer rate in women in the UK.

Notes to editors:

  • The statistics come from GLOBOCAN, a project by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in France. This project provides contemporary estimates of national incidence and mortality from major type of cancers for all countries of the world. It is available online at http://globocan.iarc.fr/
  • IARC is part of the World Health Organization.
  • About WCRF

    World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) raises awareness that cancer is largely preventable and helps people make choices to reduce their chances of developing the disease.

    This includes research into how cancer risk is related to diet, physical activity, and weight management, and education programmes that highlight the fact that about a third of cancers could be prevented through changes to lifestyle. For more information on the charity’s work, visit www.wcrf-uk.org

    The WCRF report, called Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective, was launched in November 2007 and is the most comprehensive report ever published on the link between cancer and lifestyle. For more information, visit www.dietandcancerreport.org

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