Men and cancer prevention – what do we know?

07 November 2016 | Science and research

Lucy Eccles is Press and Communications Officer at World Cancer Research Fund. Prior to this, she worked as a Clinical Trial Data Manager at the Institute of Cancer Research, working on prostate, penile and testicular cancers. She has a BSc in Biomedical Science from the University of Southampton.

November has crept up on us, and along with the crackle of fireworks and roar of the bonfire, this is the month where we hear a lot about men’s health, particularly male cancers. For this is the month of Movember and International Men’s Day. So what better opportunity to lay out exactly what we know about preventing cancer in men?

Prostate cancer

In November 2014, World Cancer Research Fund released a report on prostate cancer, the most common cancer in men in the UK. This report, which was produced as part of the Continuous Update Project – our ongoing analysis of global research on the link between diet, weight, physical activity and cancer – found strong evidence that being overweight or obese increases your risk of advanced prostate cancer. This is worrying as over 60 per cent of the UK population is overweight or obese.

Taller men at greater risk

The report also found that taller men were at greater risk of prostate cancer. This intriguing finding should be explained as it isn’t height itself that causes prostate cancer, rather it is the developmental factors men are exposed to in the womb, childhood and adolescence that are linked to the increased risk of prostate cancer – height is just a marker of the factors they have been exposed to.  

What our analysis of global research shows –

findings from our Continuous Update Project

Being overweight or obese increases the risk of these cancers: Being tall increases the risk of these cancers:
Advanced prostate Prostate
Colorectal (bowel) Colorectal (bowel)
Ovarian Ovarian
Post-menopausal breast Pre- and post-menopausal breast cancer
Kidney Kidney
Pancreatic Pancreatic
Endometrial (womb)  
Oesophageal (adenocarcinoma only)  
Stomach cancer (cardia)  

Beta-carotene consumption

The report also found strong evidence that beta-carotene consumption (either through food or from supplements) is unlikely to have a substantial effect on prostate cancer risk. This finding hasn’t changed since we last analysed the global research on prostate cancer for our 2007 Second Expert Report, but the evidence on obesity and height were new.

1.1 million men affected annually

Given that prostate cancer affects around 1.1 million men worldwide each year, including over 47,000 men that are diagnosed each year in the UK, these new findings provide further motivation for action to be taken across society, including individuals, policymakers and governments, to ensure that men are aware of the importance of maintaining a healthy weight.

Risk factors

Finally, research suggests that men are less likely than women to acknowledge health problems to themselves or others. So we should all remember the importance of the risk factors linked with prostate cancer. This includes those conducting research into diet and nutrition, and governments and policymakers focused on tackling obesity worldwide.

To help men reduce their risk of cancer, download our free Men’s Health Guide, which features lots of practical tips on how men can stay healthy and reduce their cancer risk.

Lucy Eccles | 07 November 2016