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Unhealthy lifestyle behind more than 4 in 10 cancers

Staff writer |
More than 40% of cancers could be prevented by changes to lifestyle, experts say. Nearly 600,000 cancer cases in the UK alone could have been avoided in the last five years if people had healthier lifestyles, according to the results of a new study.

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Cancer Research UK figures show that smoking remains by far the biggest preventable cause of cancer in the UK, accounting for more than 314,000 cases in the past five years, nearly a fifth of all cancers. So giving up cigarettes would be the best New Year resolution smokers could make, the charity says.

A further 145,000 cases could have been prevented if people had eaten a healthy balanced diet low in red and processed meat and salt, and high in vegetables, fruit and fibre. Keeping a healthy weight could have prevented around 88,000 cases.

Cutting down on alcohol, protecting skin in the sun and taking more exercise could also have helped prevent tens of thousands of people in the UK developing cancer in the past five years.

Professor Max Parkin, a Cancer Research UK statistician based at Queen Mary University of London, whose landmark study formed the basis of these latest figures, said: "There's now little doubt that certain lifestyle choices can have a big impact on cancer risk, with research around the world all pointing to the same key risk factors.

"Of course everyone enjoys some extra treats during the Christmas holidays so we don't want to ban mince pies and wine but it's a good time to think about taking up some healthy habits for 2015. Leading a healthy lifestyle can't guarantee someone won't get cancer but we can stack the odds in our favor by taking positive steps now that will help decrease our cancer risk in future," he added.

Professor Linda Bauld, Cancer Research UK's expert on cancer prevention, says "There are more than 200 types of cancer each caused by a complex set of factors - involving both our genes and our lifestyles. There are proven ways to minimize our risk of cancer - like giving up smoking, being more active, drinking less alcohol and maintaining a healthy weight. We must make sure the public and the policy-makers know the evidence behind the benefits of these lifestyle changes is solid."

Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK's chief executive, said: "We know that cutting UK smoking rates by just one per cent could save 3,000 lives a year. But changing our habits isn't easy. That's why we've made it a priority to invest in more research so we can learn the best ways to help people make healthier choices to reduce their cancer risk in later life."

He warns that "Every year tens of thousands of people in the UK will be diagnosed with preventable cancers unless we act now to help people lead healthier lives."


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