HEALTHIER living could have prevented almost 600,000 cases of cancer in the UK in the last five years, a report claims.
Overall, more than four in 10 cancers could be avoided if people made changes to their lifestyle, according to new figures from Cancer Research UK.
Smoking is a well known cause of cancer and accounted for more than 314,000 cases in the past five years, said the charity.
But it added that a further 145,000 cancers might have been averted if more people ate a balanced diet low in red and processed meat and salt, and high in vegetables, fruit and fibre.
Maintaining a healthy weight could have prevented around 88,000 cases, while tens of thousands of cancers were linked to excess alcohol, failing to protect the skin from sun, and lack of exercise.
Professor Max Parkin, a Cancer Research UK statistician based at Queen Mary, University of London - whose work provided the basis of the report - said: “There’s now little doubt that certain lifestyle choices can have a big impact on cancer risk, with research around the world all pointing to the same key risk factors.
“Of course everyone enjoys some extra treats during the Christmas holidays, so we don’t want to ban mince pies and wine. But it’s a good time to think about taking up some healthy habits for 2015.
“Leading a healthy lifestyle can’t guarantee someone won’t get cancer, but we can stack the odds in our favour by taking positive steps now that will help decrease our cancer risk in future.”
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Justine Sheils, 43, from Liverpool, had five cancerous moles removed after regularly using sunbeds in her youth.
She said: “We didn’t know about the dangers of sunbathing when I was in my teens and twenties, or at least I didn’t want to know.
“I sunbathed on holiday and then used sunbeds to keep my tan topped up all year around, which was the fashion in those days.
“It wasn’t until I noticed a suspicious-looking mole on my chest that I really thought about the risks I was taking.
“Being diagnosed with malignant melanoma gave me one heck of a wake-up call. I’ve had surgery five times now to remove various moles and I go for check-ups every few months.
“It’s been a truly horrible experience, but it did make me think about how I need to overhaul my lifestyle.
“So I’ve taken up running, I make sure I’m eating a healthy diet and getting my five fruit and vegetables every day and I’ve cut back on alcohol.
“I feel so lucky to have been given a second chance and I wouldn’t waste it for the world.”
Professor Linda Bauld, Cancer Research UK’s expert on cancer prevention, said: “There are more than 200 types of cancer, each caused by a complex set of factors involving both our genes and our lifestyles.
“There are proven ways to minimise our risk of cancer - like giving up smoking, being more active, drinking less alcohol and maintaining a healthy weight.
“We must make sure the public and the policy-makers know the evidence behind the benefits of these lifestyle changes is solid.”
Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: “We know that cutting UK smoking rates by just 1% could save 3,000 lives a year. But changing our habits isn’t easy.
“That’s why we’ve made it a priority to invest in more research so we can learn the best ways to help people make healthier choices to reduce their cancer risk in later life.”
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