Obesity could overtake smoking as biggest preventable cause of cancer in women, says UK charity

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24 Sep 2018 --- A new report by Cancer Research UK has put forward that obesity will overtake smoking as the biggest preventable cause of cancer among UK women in 25 years’ time. According to the report, by 2035, 10 percent of cancers in women (around 25,000 cases) could be caused by smoking and 9 percent (around 23,000 cases) by excess weight. If trends continue as projected, excess weight could cause even more cases of cancer than smoking in women by 2043.

For men, 13 percent (more than 34,000 cases) of cancers could be caused by smoking by 2035 with 7 percent (around 18,000 cases) caused by excess weight. The figures for men are different because the gap between obesity and tobacco as causes of cancer is expected to close much later than in women. Since more men smoke, they are more likely to have tobacco-related cancers, the UK charity notes.
 
While smoking increases personal risk more than obesity, many more people are overweight or obese than smoke. So even though smoking is riskier on an individual basis, the risk factors are predicted to even out for the population as a whole if current trends continue, Cancer Research UK notes.
 
Most common obesity-related cancers predominantly affect women, including breast and womb cancers. Being overweight or obese as an adult increases the risk of 13 different types of cancer including breast, bowel and kidney cancer. However, many people are unaware of this link. To remedy this situation, Cancer Research UK is launching a UK-wide campaign to increase awareness that obesity is a cause of cancer.
 
“Obesity is a huge public health threat right now, and it will only get worse if nothing is done. The UK Government must build on the lessons of smoking prevention to reduce the number of weight-related cancers by making it easier to keep a healthy weight and protect children, as those who are overweight are five times more likely to be so as an adult,” says Professor Linda Bauld, Cancer Research UK’s prevention expert.
 
“That’s why we are raising awareness of the link between cancer and obesity and calling for measures to protect children like a ban on junk food adverts before 9pm and for restrictions on price promotions of ‘less healthy’ products,” Bauld notes.
 
“The decline in smoking is a cause for celebration. It shows how decades of effort to raise awareness about the health risks plus strong political action including taxation, removing tobacco marketing and a ban on smoking in indoor public places, have paid off. But, just as there is still more to do to support people to quit smoking, we also need to act now to halt the tide of weight-related cancers and ensure this projection never becomes a reality,” she adds.
 
The Cancer Research UK report uses the established epidemiological method of Population Attributable Fractions (PAFs) to combine projections of cancer incidence, smoking prevalence and overweight and obesity prevalence, to calculate the number and proportion of UK cancer cases attributable to each factor in 2025-2035, based on risk factor prevalence 10 years prior (e.g., risk factor prevalence in 2025 impacts cancer incidence in 2035).

In related news, UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Director-General José Graziano da Silva has called for the implementation of policies that protect healthy and local diets, and encourage the private sector to produce healthier food. According to da Silve, the globalized food system is not delivering the diets that people need for a healthy life, but instead contributes to obesity and overweight, especially in countries that are importing most of their food.

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