Reducing cancer risk: the one simple step you can take NOW

A new report suggests that over the next two decades the UK could be hit by 670,000 new cases of cancer that have an entirely preventable cause.

The report, issued by the Obesity Health Alliance, looked at the impact obesity has on the nation’s health and concluded that more than 7.6 million new cases of disease linked to being overweight or obese could be diagnosed in the UK during the next 20 years. This includes an additional 4.62 million cases of type 2 diabetes and 1.63 million cases of coronary heart disease, as well as the predicted 670,000 new cases of cancer. In 2035 alone, around 440,000 new cases of disease could be caused by being overweight and obese in the UK.

The study did not include several other obesity-related diseases such as hypertension, liver disease, osteoarthritis or chronic kidney disease which could also have a toll on public health and NHS resources.

Obesity is increasing, and the report predicts that around 40 million adults in the UK could be overweight or obese by 2035, with 45% of adults in the lowest income bracket being obese. To tackle the obesity epidemic, the Obesity Health Alliance is calling on the Government to introduce a strong childhood obesity strategy without delay. It must include restricting junk food advertising on TV before the 9pm watershed, tightening online marketing to align with broadcast regulations, as well as setting targets for industry to reduce the amount of sugar and fat in food.

Obesity is known to be a key factor affecting cancer risk. Last year a new study published in the journal Gut, a British Medical Journal publication showed that boys who become obese as teenagers may double their risk of bowel cancer by the time they are in their 50s. A separate study published by leading cancer charity Cancer Research UK in 2015, showed that obese women “have around a 40% greater risk of developing a weight-related cancer in their lifetime than women of a healthy weight”. Obesity was found to increase a woman’s risk of developing at least seven types of cancer – including bowel, post-menopausal breast, gallbladder, womb, kidney, pancreatic and oesophageal cancer.

Getting cancer is often seen as being down to bad genes or bad luck, but a growing body of research shows that many cancers are due to environmental or lifestyle factors – which means many may be preventable. According to Cancer Research UK, 42% of cancer cases are linked to major lifestyle and other factors, while a study carried out by scientists from by Stony Brook University in New York and published in the journal Nature has shown that as many as 9/10 cancers may be avoidable.

Gordon Wishart, Professor of Cancer Surgery and Medical Director of Check4Cancer, comments: “This shows very clearly that we can all take steps in our everyday lives to reduce our cancer risk – and that of our children, too. One the aspects of the disease that frightens people the most is that it seems to strike randomly. This feeling of powerlessness can lead to a state of denial, which in itself is dangerous, possibly causing us to ignore symptoms. What we are finding now is that it is not as random as once believed – and this means we can take back some of that control. The message we need to get across is that anyone can make a difference by making a few simple changes each day – by eating less, having a more healthy diet and taking more regular exercise. It doesn’t matter whether such advice has been ignored prior to this point; any positive step with regard to preventing or reducing obesity will make an immediate difference to our chances of avoiding cancer.”