More than 37.7 percent, or 135,000, of all cancers diagnosed each year in the United Kingdom could be prevented through lifestyle changes, a new report from Cancer Research UK says.
Breast cancer ranked as the third most common type of cancer in the U.K. in 2015 in women, both preventable and non-preventable, behind lung cancer and non-melanoma skin cancer.
Cancer Research UK investigators reported the findings from 2015 cancer data in the report, “The fraction of cancer attributable to modifiable risk factors in England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and the United Kingdom in 2015,” published in the British Journal of Cancer.
Figures show that smoking remains the biggest preventable cause of cancer, despite the continued decline in smoking rates. In 2015, tobacco smoke was responsible for 12.4 percent of all female cancer cases, excess weight accounted for 7.5 percent of cancer cases in women, and overexposure to UV radiation from the sun and sunbeds was the third leading cause of preventable cancer, with 3.8 percent of cases. Other preventable causes include alcohol consumption, eating too little fiber, and outdoor air pollution.
“Leading a healthy life doesn’t guarantee that a person won’t get cancer, but it can stack the odds in your favor,” Sir Harpal Kumar, CEO of Cancer Research UK, said in a press release. “These figures show that we each can take positive steps to help reduce our individual risk of the disease. This research clearly demonstrates the impact of smoking and obesity on cancer risk. Prevention is the most cost-effective way of beating cancer and the UK Government could do much more to help people by making a healthy choice the easy choice.”
The term “preventable cancer” is used to identify nonhereditary types of cancer, meaning lifestyle choices can play a part in their occurrence, including foods people eat, physical activity levels, etc.
Breast cancer affected 12,659 women in the U.K. in 2015, sandwiched between lung cancer, with 16,372 cases in women, and cancer of the bowel, affecting 9,523 women. It’s a unique case, since it can be hereditary but can also occur in people who do not carry a gene mutation.
The most common mutations occur in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which are tumor suppressor genes. A mutation in one of these genes, usually inherited from a parent, makes the gene incapable of preventing abnormal growth. Other genes that may inherit mutations and cause breast cancer include ATM, TP53, CHEK2, PTEN, CDH1, STK11, and PALB2.
Even in women who have a family history of breast cancer, early diagnosis and treatment can stop the cancer from spreading or advancing.
To help patients or interested readers navigate this topic, Cancer Research UK prepared a set of resources on breast cancer, including risk factors, protective factors, diet and breast cancer, and family history/inherited genes.