More public awareness around preventing cancer could save lives -- new statistics suggest

The majority of Brits are unaware of the increased cancer risks associated with eating processed meat and a lack of exercise, according to new statistics launched today by World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF).

For the latest relevant information relating to this topic, please see our press release dated 24 May 2018, about the release of our report Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Cancer: a Global Perspective.

7 March 2018

Over half (51 per cent) of respondents were unaware that eating processed meat increases the risk of getting cancer, with the exact same amount unaware that not being physically active increases the risk (51 per cent), according to the latest results of a YouGov poll conducted annually for WCRF. Processed meat is defined as any meat that has been smoked, cured or preserved with salt or other chemical preservatives. This includes bacon, salami, chorizo, corned beef, pepperoni, pastrami, hot dogs and all types of ham.

Meanwhile, on a positive note for WCRF’s cancer prevention work over the past 25 years, 59 per cent of those polled identified a link between drinking alcohol and developing cancer, showing a trend for increased awareness – from 57 per cent in 2016 and 54 per cent in 2015. WCRF champions the latest and most authoritative scientific research from around the world on cancer prevention and survival through diet, weight and physical activity, and helps people make informed lifestyle choices to reduce their cancer risk.

However, three-quarters (75 per cent) of those polled in the latest survey cited impact from inherited genes as playing a role in their likelihood of developing cancer. In fact, only up to one in ten cancers are linked to inherited genes, whereas one third of common cancers could be preventable by maintaining a healthy weight, having a nutritious diet and doing regular physical activity – this equates to about 80,000 cases in the UK a year[i].

Dr Rachel Thompson, Head of Research Interpretation at WCRF, said:

"Our research on cancer preventability estimates shows that about 24,000 cases of cancer could be prevented in the UK each year if people stopped drinking alcohol. Making other similar lifestyle choices - such as limiting your processed meat intake - and making the public aware of these risks, could save even more lives."

Unsurprisingly, many people are aware of the risks of smoking (87 per cent) but interestingly 62 per cent were also aware of the risks of being overweight.

Furthermore, 50 per cent wrongly believe that stress increases their risk of cancer; this is up from 46 per cent last year. 13 per cent thought coffee would increase their risk of cancer, also up from last year’s 12 per cent. Yet there is no evidence linking stress to cancer, and WCRF has found that drinking coffee could potentially reduce the risk of liver and womb cancer, although more research is needed.

Head of WCRF Caroline Moye said of the stats:

“What is encouraging is the increase in the number of people aware of the links between drinking alcohol and not being physically active with cancer year on year. Here at WCRF, we want to live in a world where no one dies from a preventable cancer. That’s why we have a UK-wide network of healthcare professionals, cancer prevention champions, and supporters who are promoting our research and cancer prevention recommendations in their communities.”

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size for the 2017 results was 2070 adults and fieldwork was undertaken between 20th - 23rd October 2017. Total sample size for the 2016 results was 2071 adults and fieldwork was undertaken between 27th - 31st May 2016. Total sample size for the 2015 results was 2240 adults and fieldwork was undertaken between 19th - 20th January 2015.

The surveys were carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

Notes to editors

About World Cancer Research Fund:

World Cancer Research Fund is the world’s leading authority on the links between cancer prevention and survival and diet, weight and physical activity. By funding and supporting research, developing policy recommendations and providing health information, we ensure that people can make informed lifestyle choices to reduce their risk of developing a preventable cancer. Our scientific research ensures that we will continue to have the latest and most authoritative information at our fingertips, all underpinned by independent expert advice.

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