This site is intended for health professionals only

Lifestyle choices cause 40% of all cancers

Lifestyle choices such as smoking and drinking cause almost half of all cancers diagnosed in the UK, a study suggests.

The review, published in the British Journal of Cancer, shows smoking was by far the biggest single cause of cancer with 23% of cases in men and 15.6% in women attributed to the lifestyle choice - nearly one in five cancers.

Second to smoking are men who fail to eat their five portions of fruit and vegetables a day and overweight women.

"Many people believe cancer is down to fate or 'in the genes' and that it is the luck of the draw whether they get it," said study author Professor Max Parkin.

"Looking at all the evidence, it's clear that around 40% of all cancers are caused by things we mostly have the power to change.

"We didn't expect to find that eating fruit and vegetables would prove to be so important in protecting men against cancer. And among women we didn't expect being overweight to have a greater effect than alcohol."

In total, more than 134,000 cancers are caused by a combination of 14 lifestyle and environmental factors.

One in 25 cancers is linked to occupation and one in 33 to infections.

This means 45% of all cancers in men and 40% in women are preventable and avoidable.  

"Leading a healthy life doesn't guarantee that a person won't get cancer but this study shows that healthy habits can significantly stack the odds in our favour," said Dr Harpal Kumar, Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK.

Cancer Research UK