Alcohol and poor diet linked to high UK breast cancer rates
Women in Britain are more likely to be be diagnosed with breast cancer than those in most other developed countries because of their unhealthy lifestyles, according to a new study.
Analysis of data collected by the respected World Health Organisation shows Britain has higher rates of the potentially fatal disease than the USA, Australia, Germany and Spain.
In only 10 of the 50 countries assessed by the researchers do women have a higher chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer than those in the UK.
The experts said that many of the 46,000 breast cancer cases in the UK each year could be avoided if British women drank less, ate more healthily or took more exercise.
More than a quarter of women who develop the disease in Britain die from it, as survival rates have remained low despite record investment in the NHS under Labour.
Professor Martin Wiseman, medical and scientific adviser for the World Cancer Research Fund, which compiled the new study, said: “We know that people in high-income countries are more likely to be overweight, to drink a lot of alcohol and to be inactive.
“When you look at the list, it is clear that the countries that do worse for these factors tend to be nearer the top.
“The high incidence rates in the UK, Denmark and other high-income countries are not inevitable and lifestyle changes can make a real difference to people’s risk.”
Sarah Woolnough, Cancer Research UK’s director of policy, said: “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.”
More and more British women have been developing breast cancer in recent decades as diets have worsened, excessive drinking has become more common and exercise rates fallen.
Detection rates have improved thanks to the development of advanced screening techniques and increased awareness, but 12,000 women still die from the disease each year as Britain spends less on treatment drugs than other European nations.
Earlier this month the Department of Health announced a new £750 million cancer strategy aimed at saving the lives of 5,000 people a year in England, by giving GPs greater access to advanced diagnosis and improving investment in radiotherapy.
The WHO, through a project called GLOBOCAN, collects figures on the incidence of and deaths from the most common types of cancer for countries across the world, standardised for age in order to aid comparisons.
Its most recent data, analysed by the WCRF for today’s report, show that Belgium had the highest rates of breast cancer in 2008, with 109.2 cases per 100,000 women.
Britain is 11th, with 89.1 cases per 100,000, not as bad as Denmark, the Netherlands, Israel, Ireland or New Zealand but worse than many other leading nations as well as less developed countries where lifestyles are less sedentary. Just 50 in every 100,000 women develop breast cancer in Estonia and Montenegro, for instance.
Britain is the 12th worst of the 50 countries in terms of rates of all cancers among women.
The picture is slightly better for men, where the UK ranks as the 33rd worst. Overall, across both sexes, Britain is ranked 22nd worst out of 50 countries with 267 out of every 100,000 people developing tumours.
International studies have shown that Britons now eat and drink more than their counterparts in many other countries.
Recent figures from the Office for National Statistics show that one in seven women over the age of 16 drinks more than double the recommended daily allowance of alcohol every week, while 24 per cent of women in England are classified obese.
Denmark was given the overall title of “cancer capital of the world”, and although it has a good record of diagnosing the disease, the WCRF said the country’s residents drank a lot and Danish women were heavy smokers.
Meg McArthur, Senior Policy and Information Officer, Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: “Although these statistics show that we have further to go before we have a future free from the fear of breast cancer in the UK, it is important to remember that more women than ever are surviving due to better screening, improved treatment and greater awareness.
“Breast cancer is thought to be due to a combination of lifestyle, genetic and environmental factors and although some risk factors cannot be changed, women can reduce their risk by drinking less, maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly.”
The Government and leading cancer charities insist that Britain’s position near the top of the cancer incidence tables shows that the disease is being picked up by doctors, which aids early treatment, and point out that other countries may not record data so accurately.
Sarah Woolnough, from Cancer Research UK, added: “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.”
The National Cancer Director, Professor Sir Mike Richards, said: “There are many important factor to consider when looking at cancer incidence figures – for example smoking, alcohol, obesity, and other lifestyle choices.
“We want to vastly improve cancer outcomes – that’s why we will shortly be launching the first ever Government awareness campaign for cancer, to promote earlier diagnosis and to save more lives.”
Tags: alcohol, breast cancer, Cancer, cancer drugs, cancer survival, NHS Deaths, obese, preventable crisis