Date Published: 25 September 2018
By 2043 obesity might exceed smoking as the largest preventable cause of cancer in women
British charity Cancer Research UK has launched a UK-wide campaign to increase awareness that obesity is a cause of cancer1.
This effort follows the publication of a report2 in August 2018 that includes calculations of the number and proportion of UK cancer cases projected to be attributable to smoking, being overweight and being obese in 2025-2035, based on each risk factor prevalence 10 years prior (e.g. risk factor prevalence in 2025 impacts cancer incidence in 2035).
The calculations suggest that in 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.
Although it is conceded that projections of cancer incidence beyond 2035 are less precise, the indications are that if the smoking-obesity gap continues to narrow after 2035 at the rate calculated for 2025-2035 then being overweight or obese could possibly cause more cancer cases than smoking in UK females by 2043.
The figures for men are different: 13% (more than 34,000 cases) of cancers could be caused by smoking by 2035 with 7% (around 18,000 cases) caused by excess weight. This difference is explained by the gap between obesity and tobacco as causes of cancer in men being expected to close later than in women. Additionally, proportionally more men smoke than women, resulting in men being more likely to have tobacco-related cancers1.
It is also useful to be aware that although proportionally more men than women are overweight or obese, obesity has a greater effect on the predictions about women developing cancer because some of the most common obesity-related cancers predominantly affect women, such as breast cancer and womb cancers.
The important message here is that, according to Cancer Research UK, being overweight or obese as an adult increases the risk of cancer, statistically of 13 different types of cancer, including breast, bowel and kidney cancer. Maintaining a healthy weight can be challenging for some people. This information might serve as powerful motivation. For many people maintaining an appropriate body weight is part of an overall healthy lifestyle consisting of many small choices throughout the day and week - choices about things like increasing exercise (perhaps just in many small ways), choices about types, quantities and timing of intake of food and beverages, and so on.
Professor Linda Bauld, of Cancer Research UK, said1:
" 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."