Women's cancer toll is blamed on UK lifestyle as one-in-four will develop the disease in their l

Staff - dailymail.co.uk - 07/31/2011
Body and Brain

Poor lifestyle choices mean women in the UK are 17 per cent more likely to develop cancer than the European average, warn experts.

About one in four British women will develop cancer by the age of 75 compared with about one in five across Europe, estimates show.

Modern lifestyles, including high obesity levels and alcohol consumption, are fuelling the higher than average cancer rate for women here, according to researchers.

Being more physically active, reducing alcohol consumption, keeping to a healthy weight and not smoking can minimise the risk of a number of cancers.

The latest estimates come from World Health Organisation data released by the World Cancer Research Fund.

The WCRF, a charity that promotes ways of preventing the disease, said the level of extra risk above the European average for British women was unexpected.

Although the UK has a higher than average rate of cancer incidence, it is only the seventh highest. Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway and Iceland all have higher rates, with Denmark highest.

More than one in five British women is classified as obese, with research showing they are almost 50 per cent more likely to die from breast cancer than women carrying fewer pounds. They are also more prone to bowel cancer.

Alcohol is linked to one in 20 cancer deaths in the UK, including breast and bowel.

Modern lifestyles, including high obesity levels and alcohol consumption, are fuelling the higher than average cancer rates

Modern lifestyles, including high obesity levels and alcohol consumption, are fuelling the higher than average cancer rates

Dr Rachel Thompson, deputy head of science for the WCRF, said: ‘On average, women in the UK are more likely to be overweight and to drink more alcohol than the European average and this is a concern because both these factors increase cancer risk.

‘They are not the only reasons for the differing cancer rates, but there is now very strong evidence that women who drink a lot of alcohol are at increased risk of developing the disease and that excess body fat is also an important risk factor.

‘This is why one of the big public health challenges we face today is to reduce the amount of alcohol we drink as a nation and to get a grip on the obesity crisis before it spirals out of control. Together with other factors such as being physically active and eating a healthy plant-based diet without too much salt or red and processed meat, these changes could make a real difference to the number of women who develop cancer before the age of 75. Overall, we estimate that about a third of the most common cancers could be prevented by eating healthily, being physically active and maintaining a healthy weight.

‘And for breast cancer, which is the most common type of cancer, about four in ten cases could be prevented through lifestyle changes.’

There is also strong evidence that breastfeeding can reduce the mother’s risk of breast cancer, with each year of breastfeeding reducing the risk by about 4 per cent.

But only a small number of women in the UK breastfeed their babies exclusively for the first six months.

This is also likely to be one of the reasons for the high cancer rate in women in the UK, Dr Thompson said.

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