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British Indians have fewer cancers than white British population

by British Journal of Cancer | News

16 June 2010

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British Indians have fewer cases of many different cancers including breast, prostate, colon and lung than the British white population, according to new research published in the British Journal of Cancer1 today (Wednesday).

Figures from the study also reveal the cancer rates in British Indians are higher than rates in India, except for cancers of the head and neck.

Researchers believe the findings reinforce the links between both lifestyle and social factors with increased risks of different cancers.

Researchers examined the rates of cancer in the British white and British Indian population in Leicester between 2001 and 2006. These were then compared to rates in India.

Among men there were 266 cases for every 100,000 British white men and 165 cases for every 100,000 British Indian men.

Rates for women were 260 cases per 100,000 British white women and 175 cases per 100,000 British Indian women.

Leicester was chosen as it has the largest population of British Indians of any local authority in the UK and has nearly universal ethnicity data recorded, making this one of the most accurate studies of its kind2.

The five most common cancers in the white British population were lung, breast, colon, prostate and rectum. For British Indians these were breast, prostate, lung, rectum and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Cancers of the head and neck, breast, lung, cervix and oesophagus were the most common in India.

Differences in cancer rates are likely to reflect differences in lifestyles and cancer diagnosis. Lower smoking rates among British Indians 30 years ago mean lower rates of lung, stomach, bladder, kidney and oesophageal cancers today.

Dr Raghib Ali, lead author based at the Cancer Epidemiology Unit, University of Oxford, said, “We found that colon cancer was much less common in British Indians than in British Whites and we think this could be due differences in their diets. Most first generation British Indians have maintained a diet similar to that consumed in India which has one of the lowest rates of colon cancer in the world.”

Dr Lesley Walker, Cancer Research UK’s director of cancer information, said: “This research clearly shows the different rates of cancer among the British Indian population. Those moving from India will have a lower incidence of cancer, but this rises after living in the UK so it’s valuable to know which cancers are more common in different groups. The data provides real insight into the contribution of lifestyle and environment – both here and in India – to different cancers. It highlights the choices we can all make to cut the risk of cancer.”

Cancer Research UK is working with the NHS and the department of health on the National Awareness and Early Diagnosis Initiative (NAEDI)3. One of its areas is making people aware of signs and symptoms that could be due to cancer4 and encouraging them to see a doctor if they notice anything unusual particularly if it is a persistent change. If cancer is the cause, early diagnosis can make a real difference to the success of cancer treatment.

Dr Walker adds: “It’s vital for people to be aware of the signs and symptoms of cancer, and for everyone to know what is normal for them. If you notice anything unusual about your body, or have one of the warning signs or symptoms, it’s really important to talk to your doctor about it as soon as possible.”

“Not smoking, a healthy diet high in fruit, vegetables and fibre, low in red and processed meat, salt and alcohol and keeping a healthy body weight and regular exercise all help reduce the risk of many different cancers.”

Anyone who has questions about cancer can call Cancer Research UK’s cancer information nurses on 0808 800 4040. If you need to talk to us through an interpreter, please let us know when you call.


For media enquiries please contact the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 7061 8300 or, out of hours, the duty press officer on 07050 264 059.