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UK breast cancer rates four times higher than Eastern Africa

9 August 2010

Breast cancer rates in the UK are over four times higher than those in Eastern Africa, World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) has revealed.

According to the latest cancer statistics, 87.9 women per 100,000 in the UK (adjusted for age) were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, compared to just 19.3 women per 100,000 in Eastern Africa, which includes countries such as Kenya and Tanzania.

Part of the difference is likely to be because the UK is better at diagnosing and recording breast cancer cases. But WCRF has warned that lifestyle is also an important reason for the difference.

Scientists estimate about four out of every 10 breast cancer cases in the UK (42 per cent) could be prevented through maintaining a healthy weight, drinking less alcohol and being more physically active. There is also convincing evidence that breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast cancer.

Women in Eastern Africa drink much less alcohol than women in the UK and obesity levels are much lower. Breastfeeding rates in Eastern Africa are also much higher.

Dr Rachel Thompson, Deputy Head of Science for WCRF, said: “The fact that breast cancer rates in Eastern Africa are so much lower than in the UK is a stark reminder that every year in this country, thousands of women are diagnosed with a case of cancer that could have been prevented.

“That such a large difference in breast cancer rates exists between these two areas is a real concern. Also, it is not just Eastern Africa that has significantly lower breast cancer rates. The rate here is double that of South America, for example, and more than three times that of Eastern Asia.

“The fact that rates of breast cancer are much lower in other parts of the world highlights the fact that breast cancer is not inevitable. This means we need to do more to get across the message that just by making relatively simple changes to our lifestyle such as drinking less alcohol and maintaining a healthy weight, women can reduce their risk of breast cancer.

“And it is not just breast cancer risk that is affected by what we eat and drink and how physically active we are. Scientists estimate that about a third of the most common cancers in the UK could be prevented just through eating healthily, being physically active and maintaining a healthy weight.”

According to the statistics, the highest rates of breast cancer in the world are in Belgium, which had 109.4 cases per 100,000 women in 2008.

Notes to editors:

  • The statistics come from GLOBOCAN, a project by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in France. This project provides contemporary estimates of national incidence and mortality from major type of cancers for all countries of the world.
  • The countries GLOBOCAN includes as being part of Eastern Africa are: Burundi; Comoros; Djibouti; Eritrea; Ethiopia; La Réunion (French island); Kenya; Madagascar; Malawi; Mauritius; Mozambique; Rwanda; Somalia; Tanzania; Uganda; Zambia; and Zimbabwe.
  • The rates per 100,000 people have been age adjusted. This means that for each country they have taken into account the differing proportions of people in different age groups to make sure they are comparing like with like.
  • This is important because older people are more likely to develop breast cancer, which would otherwise distort the figures because the UK’s population is older than Eastern Africa’s.

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About WCRF

World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) raises awareness that cancer is largely preventable and helps people make choices to reduce their chances of developing the disease.

This includes research into how cancer risk is related to diet, physical activity, and weight management, and education programmes that highlight the fact that about a third of cancers could be prevented through changes to lifestyle. For more information on the charity’s work, visit www.wcrf-uk.org

The WCRF report, called Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective, was launched in November 2007 and is the most comprehensive report ever published on the link between cancer and lifestyle. For more information, visit www.dietandcancerreport.org

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