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Sunburn, smoking, alcohol and obesity fuelling rising cancer rates

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by Cancer Research UK | News

8 August 2007

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New statistics from Cancer Research UK reveal steep rises in cancers linked to excessive sun exposure, alcohol, smoking and obesity.

Rates of melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, have risen by over 40 per cent in the past decade, making it the fastest rising cancer in the UK. Incidence of mouth, womb, and kidney cancers has also shown rapid increases in the last 10 years.

Cancer Research UK is worried about the increases as some cases of these cancers are potentially avoidable. Research suggests that around half of all cancers could be prevented by changes to lifestyle.

The good news is that rates of cervical cancers are falling as a result of the national screening programme and thanks to successful smoking cessation campaigns, lung cancer rates are continuing to decrease, especially in men.

The figures – published by Cancer Research UK and the UK Association of Cancer Registries (UKACR) – found that although rates of malignant melanoma are higher in women and have doubled since the mid-80s, rates have tripled in men in the same period. Heavy sun exposure accounts for the vast majority of cases.

Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UK’s director of health information, said: “We’re very concerned that cases of malignant melanoma are spiralling. Exposure to UV radiation in sunlight is the main cause of skin cancer. Most cases of this disease could be prevented if people protected themselves in the sun and took care not to burn.”

Mouth cancer rates have increased by almost a quarter over the last decade. Sara Hiom said: “Most cases of mouth cancer occur in people who smoke or chew tobacco and regularly drink alcohol. As well as encouraging people to reduce their risk of mouth cancer, our priority is to raise awareness of the early warning signs of the disease, as this helps doctors find cancers at an early stage when treatment is easier and there is a good chance of a cure.”

Over the last 10 years womb cancer rates have increased by over 20 per cent. It is unclear exactly what causes womb cancer, but there are some things that are known to increase a woman’s risk. Overweight and obese women are twice as likely to develop womb cancer as women of a healthy weight. This is due to higher than normal exposure to the hormone oestrogen and postmenopausal women who are overweight or obese tend to have higher levels of oestrogen in their bodies.

Rates of kidney cancer have increased by more than 10 per cent over the past decade with smoking and being overweight two of the major risk factors for this disease. Scientists believe smoking doubles the risk of kidney cancer but suggest that the risk of developing the disease falls when people give up smoking.

Lucy Morrish, statistical information manager at Cancer Research UK, who compiled the figures, said: “While incidence rates for some cancers have fallen over the past decade, others are rising and many of these cases could be prevented if people avoided excessive sun exposure, smoking and obesity and limited their alcohol intake. Our Reduce the Risk campaign actively encourages people to learn how they can lead healthier lives and cut their risk of developing cancer.”

Sara Hiom added: “Everyone can help reduce their risk of cancer by avoiding smoking, keeping a healthy body weight, eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruit, vegetables and fibre and taking regular exercise. Enjoying the sun safely and avoiding sunburn also helps to reduce cancer risk and we encourage people to get to know their bodies and see their doctor if they notice anything unusual – and attend screening when invited.”


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