Science News

Reducing Cancer Risk Factors

Mon, 12th Dec 2011

Kat Arney

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The biggest study so far into cancer risk factors confirms our understanding of the lifestyle choices that may lead to cancer...

Kat -   For my day job I work for Cancer Research UK and we put out a very big story this week looking at risk factors for cancer.  [The paper showed] that around 100,000 cancers a year are caused by just four preventable risk factors:  Smoking, drinking too much alcohol, being overweight and not eating enough fruit and veg.

Chris -   But that's not rocket science, is it?  Because we did know that...

fruitsKat -   Itís absolutely not.  But this is the biggest paper so far to have come out that's looked at lots of different types of cancer and lots of different risk factors, and actually really been able to quantify it.  Itís the most reliable data we have on the links between a lot of different risk factors, not just the big ones like smoking.  Smoking is by far and away the biggest risk factor for cancer, but [this paper looked at] many other ones, things like UV, occupational exposure and all these kinds of things.  And we've been able to put some hard and fast numbers onto these, about how much [these avoidable factors] can increase your risk of cancer.

Chris -   So, can you just very briefly give us a couple of them and explain why this adds new value and new insight into those areas?

Kat -   Well in some ways, itís not surprising to a lot of us who work in cancer but obviously, the really big one is showing that almost a quarter of cancers in men are down to smoking.  That's a really, really big risk factor.  But interestingly as well, one of the things that came out is that not eating enough fruit and veg is a much bigger risk factor in men than in women.  This is because generally, men don't eat enough fruit and veg compared to women.  So there were some interesting things that came out, but it was more or less a no-brainer!  Itís nice to see all the data there in a way that can really be explained and shown to people.

Chris -   And if people would like to follow up and see this data, where should they go?

Kat -   There's a really nice run down of it and a really good infographic on the Cancer Research UK Science Update blog, so you can go and have a look at some of the factors there.  There's a very interesting discussion going on there because some patients have felt that putting this information out is blaming them for getting cancer and of course, for an individual cancer, itís very difficult to say exactly what caused it.  But itís more important that we can tell people we know what can increase your risk and what can reduce your risk as well.

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