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Obesity as cause of cancer set to overtake smoking

Stats suggest this trajectory applies to women

Jo Carlowe

Monday, 24 September 2018

Obesity is set to overtake smoking as the biggest preventable cause of cancer in women.

New projections, from a Cancer Research UK report*, calculate that in just 17 years (2035) 10% of cancers in women (around 25,000 cases) could be caused by smoking and 9% (around 23,000 cases) by excess weight.

But by 2043, if trends continue as projected, excess weight could cause even more cases of cancer than smoking in women.

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. And since more men smoke they are more likely to have tobacco-related cancers.

While more males than females are overweight or obese, obesity has a greater effect on women, as some of the most common obesity-related cancers predominantly affect them – such as breast and womb cancers.

Smoking currently causes 18% (around 32,200) of cancers in UK men and 12% (around 22,000) of cancers in women. Excess weight causes 5% (around 9,600) of cases of cancer in men and 7.5% (around 13,200) in women

Being overweight or obese as an adult increases the risk of 13 different types of cancer including breast, bowel and kidney cancer, but only around one in seven people in the UK are aware of the link.

Today, Cancer Research UK is launching a UK-wide campaign to increase awareness that obesity is a cause of cancer.

Professor Linda Bauld, Cancer Research UK’s prevention expert, said: “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.

“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.

“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.”

*When could overweight and obesity overtake smoking as the biggest cause of cancer in the UK? A report prepared by the Cancer Intelligence Team, Policy & Information Directorate, Cancer Research UK, September 2018.

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