More than a third of cancer cases are preventable, study finds

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More than 135,500 cases of cancer a year – 37 per cent of the total diagnosed – could be prevented through lifestyle changes, according to new research.

Professor Linda Bauld

Professor Linda Bauld.

The landmark study, by Cancer Research UK, found that smoking remains the biggest preventable cause of cancer, despite the continued in decline in smoking rates.

Professor Linda Bauld, from the University of Stirling, was involved in communicating the results of the research, which found that tobacco smoke caused around 32,200 cases of cancer in men (17.7% of all male cancer cases) and around 22,000 (12.4%) in women in 2015.


Excess weight is the second biggest preventable cause of cancer with around 22,800 (6.3%) cases of cancer a year attributed to the patient being overweight or obese. The third is overexposure to UV radiation from the sun and sunbeds, causing 13,600 cases of melanoma skin cancer (3.8% of all cases).

Linda Bauld, Professor of Health Policy and Director of the Institute for Social Marketing at Stirling, is Cancer Research UK’s prevention expert.

She said: “These new figures show that the battle to conquer smoking-related cancer is far from over. But the declining numbers of smokers show that prevention strategies are working.

“Obesity is a huge health threat right now, and it will only get worse if nothing is done. The UK Government must build on the successes of smoking prevention to reduce the number of weight-related cancers. Banning junk food TV adverts before the 9pm watershed is an important part of the comprehensive approach needed.”


Other preventable causes of cancer include drinking alcohol, eating too little fibre and outdoor air pollution.

Sir Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: “Leading a healthy life doesn’t guarantee that a person won’t get cancer, but it can stack the odds in your favour. 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.” 

More than 2,500 cancer cases a week could be avoided

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University of Stirling

The University of Stirling is ranked fifth in Scotland and 40th in the UK for research intensity in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework. Stirling is committed to providing education with a purpose and carrying out research which has a positive impact on communities across the globe – addressing real issues, providing solutions and helping to shape society.

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