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Top ten cancer facts everyone should know

1. Globally, one in every eight deaths is caused by cancer – more than malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS combined. According to figures from Cancer Research UK, 338,623 people in the UK were diagnosed with cancer in 2012 – that’s 590.5 people per 100,000 of the population. There were also 161,823 deaths from cancer (168.6 people per 100,000 of the population).

2. Cancer is increasing: one in two UK people born after 1960 will be diagnosed with some form of cancer during their lifetime. Cancers of the breast, lung, prostate and bowel account for over half (53%) of all new cancer cases.

3. There are over 100 types of cancer – each essentially its own disease – so a single cure seems unlikely. We are getting better at treating it, however, with the number of people surviving cancer for ten years or more after treatment now over 50%.

4. Generally, cancer risk increases with age, with people over 55 being considered most at risk. For women, breast cancer presents the highest risk, followed by cervical, and colorectal (bowel) cancer. For men lung cancer is the biggest risk, followed by prostate and stomach cancer. Skin cancer is the most widely diagnosed cancer overall, but lung cancer remains the biggest killer.

5. Whilst there has been debate about “bad genes” being responsible for cancer, the latest research, carried out by scientists from by Stony Brook University in New York and published in the journal Nature, shows that as many as nine out of ten cancers are due to environmental factors.

6. In a very small number of cases, faulty genes can dramatically increase ones risk of certain cancers. In recent years, Angelina Jolie discovered she carried the BRCA1 gene, which gave her an 87% chance of developing breast cancer and a 50% chance of ovarian cancer. She opted to have a double mastectomy and later also had her ovaries removed, reducing her risk to normal levels.

7. According to Cancer Research UK, 42% of cancer cases are entirely preventable, being linked to major lifestyle and other factors – such as obesity, diet, alcohol consumption, smoking and exercise. Sleep patterns are also significant, and shift workers have been shown to be at higher risk.

8. Around 90% of lung cancer cases are caused by smoking, and just 5% of lung cancer patients diagnosed today are expected to survive 10 years. Tobacco smoking is recognised as the single most preventable cause of death in the world.

9. Processed meats (bacon, sausages, preserved meats) are now also classed as a carcinogen by the World Health Organisation, and moderation is advised. Red meat is only a “probable” cause.

10. Early diagnosis is a decisive factor in successful treatment. Awareness and detection rates for breast cancer, for example, are high (partly due to a national testing programme) and survival rates follow suit: 2011 figures for breast cancer show around 50,000 cases per annum in the UK, with 11,716 deaths from this disease in 2012. By contrast, lung cancer is hard to detect unless you are specifically testing for it, and there is no national screening programme. As a result, around 90% of cases come to light due to symptoms such as weight loss or a cough – at which point, it is usually too late for effective treatment. There were 43,463 new cases of lung cancer in the UK in 2011 but the number of deaths is more than triple that of breast cancer: 35,371 in the UK in 2012.

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