Obesity crisis in Scotland sees rise in bowel cancer cases

The obesity crisis in Scotland had led to an estimated 4,800 cases of bowel cancer in the last decade, according to new figures from Cancer Research UK.

Around 1,600 people in Scotland die from bowel cancer every year. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto
Around 1,600 people in Scotland die from bowel cancer every year. Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Every year in Scotland, there are around 3,800 cases of bowel cancer – around 2,100 cases in men and around 1,700 cases diagnosed in women with around 1,600 people in Scotland dying from the disease annually.

More than a tenth of those bowel cancer cases are linked to carrying excess weight, the new estimates show, and that proportion has increased over time. Research shows that obesity is linked to 13 types of cancer, including bowel cancer. Scientists have yet to unravel exactly how being overweight or obese can cause bowel cancer, but insulin resistance is one likely explanation. Insulin is a hormone which is important in the breakdown of food. Excess weight can lead to insulin resistance, which can cause levels of insulin to rise in the body, telling cells to divide more rapidly. This raises the likelihood of the cells changing and leading to cancer.

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Professor Linda Bauld, Cancer Research UK’s cancer prevention expert, based at the University of Stirling, said: “It is a huge worry to see so many bowel cancer cases being caused by excess weight, and to see that proportion rising as more of the population becomes overweight or obese.

“Being overweight or obese is linked to 13 types of cancer, including bowel cancer which is the third most common form of the disease in Scotland. It is also now more common for adults in Scotland to be overweight or obese than a healthy weight.”

“In the face of this, the Scottish Government has a responsibility to take action and introduce an obesity strategy which will help everyone to make healthy choices.”

Geoff Ogle, Chief Executive, Food Standard Scotland said: There is no single ‘silver bullet’ solution to these issues, which is why Food Standards Scotland has put forward a broad range of measures to Scottish Government to tackle Scotland’s poor health and diet.”