04:18pm Friday 21 February 2020

UK has highest oesophageal cancer rate in Europe

About 6.4 out of every 100,000 people (adjusted for age) develop oesophageal cancer in the UK every year, according to the league table, which was compiled by World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) using World Health Organization (WHO) estimates.

This is almost double the European average of 3.3 and WCRF has warned that part of the reason for the UK’s high rate of oesophageal cancer are its levels of alcohol consumption and the obesity rate, as there is strong evidence these increase risk of the disease.

Experts say that by not smoking or drinking alcohol, and by choosing a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight, most of the 8,000 oesophageal cancer cases that are diagnosed each year in the UK could be prevented.

Dr Rachel Thompson, Deputy Head of Science for WCRF, said: “The fact that the UK has the highest rate of oesophageal cancer in Europe is a real concern because it is a type of cancer that has a particularly low survival rate.

“It is also a particularly preventable type of cancer and most oesophageal cases in the UK could be prevented through a healthy diet, limiting alcohol consumption, maintaining a healthy weight and not smoking. The problem is that we have the highest obesity rate in Europe and we drink more alcohol than the European average.

“This means that thousands of people every year are being diagnosed with an oesophageal cancer that could have been prevented. So we need to get the message across that people can make a big difference to their risk of oesophageal cancer risk by making relatively straightforward lifestyle changes.

“The good news is that not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, cutting down on alcohol and eating more of a variety of fruits and vegetables will not just reduce your risk of oesophageal cancer. It will also reduce your risk of other types of cancer, as well as being good for health generally.”

WCRF has today published the league table of the countries with the 50 highest rates in the world. It is available online at www.wcrf-uk.org/research/cancer_statistics/oesophageal_cancer_rates.php

Ireland has the second highest rate in Europe, with 5.9 cases per 100,000 people per year, while the Netherlands is third highest with 5.8. At the other end of the scale, Cyprus’s rate of 0.5 is the lowest in Europe.

Notes to editors:

  • Rates of cancer are usually higher in high-income countries than in low-income countries, but oesophageal cancer is an exception to this. The average rate of oesophageal cancer in less developed regions is 8.7, which is much higher than the average rate of 3.6 for more developed regions. Mongolia’s rate of 18.7 is the highest in the world.
  • The reasons for this are not fully understood, though poor nutrition and drinking beverages at high temperatures (such as the South American drunk maté are thought to be among the reasons for the higher rate in low-income countries.

  • Oesophageal cancer comprises two different types of the disease: squamous cell carcinoma is especially related to smoking and drinking, while adenocarcinoma is particularly related to obesity. The UK high and rising rates of adenocarcinoma, while the high rates in lower income countries are mainly squamous cell carcinoma.
  • Overall, the UK has the joint 31st highest oesophageal cancer rate in the world.
  • The rates per 100,000 people have been taken from the Globocan database, which is online a http://globocan.iarc.fr/, and have been age adjusted. This means that for each country they have taken into account the differing proportions of people in different age groups to make sure they are comparing like with like.


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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