Denmark has the highest cancer rates in the world, with about 326 people out of every 100,000 developing cancer each year, an analysis of World Health Organisation (WHO) statistics suggests.
The country is known to have a good record of diagnosing cancer, but also has high rates of smoking among women and high levels of alcohol consumption.
Researchers at World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) compiled a league table of national cancer rates, using age-adjusted data from a project by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of the WHO.
According to the league table, the UK has the 22nd highest cancer rates in the world.
In the UK, about 267 in every 100,000 people develop cancer each year, and the country was ranked 33rd in the world for cancers in men and 12th for cancers in women.
The table also suggests that the UK is ranked 11th highest in the world for rates of breast cancer, a disease that is often linked to obesity and excessive alcohol consumption.
However, Cancer Research UK said that the figures should be approached with caution, as the standard of reporting and data collection on cancer diagnosis varies from country to country and it is therefore difficult to get a clear picture.
Professor Martin Wiseman, medical and scientific adviser for WCRF, observed that many of the nations with the highest rates of cancer are high-income countries.
He revealed: “We know that people in high-income countries are more likely to be overweight, to drink a lot of alcohol and to be inactive.
“There is strong scientific evidence that these factors increase the risk of several common cancers and these figures show the effect of this. When you look at the list, it is clear that the countries that do worse for these factors tend to be nearer the top.”
Professor Wiseman emphasised that lifestyle changes can make a “real difference” to people’s risk of developing cancer and revealed that about a third of the most common cancers in the UK could be prevented by adopting healthy behaviours.
Sarah Woolnough, Cancer Research UK’s director of policy, commented: “Comparing cancer incidence rates between different countries can be misleading due to differences in how the data is collected. In some countries, such as the UK, the whole population is accounted for in the data. But in others, coverage is much smaller, so the overall figures might not actually be representative of the whole country.
“Age is the biggest risk factor for cancer, so high income countries where people live for longer will tend to have higher incidence rates. However, we do know that up to half of all cancers could be prevented by changes to lifestyle such as giving up smoking, keeping a healthy weight and cutting down on alcohol. People can also reduce their risk by eating a healthy balanced diet that is high in fibre, fruit and vegetables and low in red and processed meat. All these things, along with taking regular exercise and avoiding sunburn, can reduce the risk of developing cancer.”