Risk factors for heart disease also increase cancer risk

13 February 2015

High blood pressure and high levels of blood sugar and blood fats increase the risk of cancer, the largest study of its kind has found.

These factors, that are typically associated with diabetes or heart disease, and are usually connected to unhealthy lifestyles, increase the risk of several cancers, researchers found.

Researchers studied nearly 565,000 middle-aged Europeans and found that a combination of high blood pressure, blood sugar, blood fats, BMI and cholesterol particularly increase the risk of liver and kidney cancer in men, and womb and pancreatic cancer in women.

World Cancer Research Fund, who funded the study, said that the results highlight the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle. High blood pressure, high levels of blood sugar and blood fats, BMI and cholesterol can all be addressed by a healthy diet, healthy weight, and being physically active.

Dr Panagiota Mitrou, Head of Research Funding from the World Cancer Research Fund, said: "We normally link high blood pressure and high levels of blood sugar and blood fats with heart disease or diabetes. But this large study shows that these factors, which are linked with a poor diet and inactive lifestyle, can also increase the risk of several types of cancer when combined.

"It adds to the evidence that if we want to avoid developing cancer – let alone other diseases – we all need to eat healthily, stay in shape and be more active.

"By making healthy lifestyle changes, we could prevent one in three common cancers in the UK every year."

The study, conducted by researchers at Umeå University in Sweden, and published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, created a metabolic risk score of five components: body mass index, blood pressure, and plasma levels of glucose, cholesterol, and triglycerides.

Researchers, who studied seven cohorts across Norway, Sweden, and Austria, found that the higher the risk score level, the greater risk of several cancers.

Men with a high level score showed a 43 per cent increased risk of kidney or liver cancer, a 29 per cent increased risk of colon cancer, and a 27 per cent increased risk of oesophageal cancer.

Women with a high level score showed a 56 per cent increased risk of womb cancer, 53 per cent increased risk of pancreatic cancer, a 40 per cent increased risk of kidney cancer, and a 27 per cent increased risk of cervical cancer.

Dr Tanja Stocks, who led the analyses, said: "This exciting study, which is the largest of its kind to date, shows how important it is to lead a healthy lifestyle in order to avoid high blood pressure, and high levels of blood sugar and blood fats, as they all increase the risk of several cancers."

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Notes to Editors:

  • The study, called the Me-Can project, consisted of 564,596 men and women with a mean age of 44 was led by Professor Pär Stattin, from Umeå University, in Sweden.
  • The factors investigated were body mass index, blood pressure, glucose, cholesterol, and triglycerides and were combined to create a metabolic risk score.
  • The study was funded by a World Cancer Research Fund grant.
  • Around 81,000 cancer cases could be prevented in the UK every year through a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and being regularly physically active.