Cancer prevention is front-page news

12 October 2023

You can wait ages for something that you are working on to make it into the headlines, and then along come 3 important front-page news stories all in the same month!

In September, The Guardian published 3 articles about cancer prevention on the front pages of its print edition.

The first, 184,000 in UK to get preventable cancer diagnosis this year, was based on a report The Guardian had commissioned from the consultancy Frontier Economics, called The societal and economic costs of preventable cancers in the UK.

Massive human and financial cost

Guardian stories on cancer prevention

The report’s authors estimated the number of preventable cancers that would be diagnosed in the UK this year. From this, they extrapolated a combined cost to the individuals and the state of £78bn. This figure comprised £40bn in lost productivity, £30bn in costs to the people affected, £5bn of the NHS and social care budgets, and a further £3.4bn in costs to families and carers.

The Guardian’s Health Policy Editor, Denis Campbell, reached out to us for our expert insights on the report, as well as seeking our input for a broader cancer prevention explainer.

We explained how difficult it is to estimate the future costs of preventable cancers, and drew attention to the report’s assumptions and limitations (highlighted by the authors themselves).

But we welcomed the report as an excellent piece of initial analysis that gave a sense of just how expensive preventable cancers are – for individuals, families and the state.

The report also emphasised the critical need to increase efforts to reduce the number of people developing preventable cancers, using all the funding and policy measures at the government’s disposal.

There is a dire need for impactful campaigns to highlight important health messages and to reduce the risks of preventable cancers – Dr Panagiota Mitrou

This quote by our Director of Research, Innovation and Policy, Dr Panagiota Mitrou, appeared in a second front-page story in The Guardian a week later.

The quote came from a round-table event organised by The Guardian that brought together World Cancer Research Fund, Cancer Research UK and other leading cancer organisations to discuss the Frontier Economics report in greater depth.

Dr Mitrou said:

History shows that sometimes very graphic, hard-hitting tactics in campaigns – even images that risk upsetting some people similar to those used on cigarette packets – are necessary to alert the public to the dangers of unhealthy behaviour.

We would like to see governments across the UK further reduce smoking rates, tackle alcohol consumption through clearer labelling and a minimum unit price for England, and implement the already agreed restrictions on online and TV advertising and multi-buy offers for foods high in fat, salt and sugar.

After this coverage, our website saw a dramatic rise in visitors. Limit alcohol consumption, which is one of our Cancer Prevention Recommendations, received more than 2,500 page views, with visitors often then exploring more about Alcohol and cancer risk or taking our Cancer Health Check. Overall, we saw a massive 5,500% increase in traffic compared with a week earlier!

Women dying needlessly from cancer

The Guardian’s 3rd major cancer story in September covered a report in The Lancet called Women, power and cancer.

In the largest report of its kind, scientists studied women in 185 countries and found that unequal power dynamics across society globally are having “resounding negative impacts” on how women experience cancer prevention and treatment.

In response, The Guardian said health experts are calling for a “feminist approach” to cancer to eliminate inequalities, as 800,000 lives could be saved each year if all women had access to optimal cancer care.

Dr Helen Croker, Assistant Director of Research and Policy at World Cancer Research Fund, said:

These findings on how women experience cancer prevention and treatment across the global cancer spectrum are shocking. This is a wake-up call to take cancer prevention seriously as it has been deprioritised for too long.

Governments across the globe urgently need to implement policies and campaigns, in particular targeting women, to reduce inequalities. Only then will we start to close the gender gap and begin creating healthier environments for everyone.

Cancer prevention does at last seem to be rising up the international media and policy agenda. Let’s hope this continues, so that the 40% of cancer cases that could be prevented through reducing people’s exposure to unhealthy environments never happen.