We all know the Big C is one of the biggest threats to our lives, and yet we’re clearly not doing enough to prevent it.
According to new figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS), between 2003 and 2012 cases of all types of cancer have increased by 27%, with liver cancer showing the biggest rise of 66%.
Skin cancer has leapt by 61% and is now the fifth most common cancer in England.
These rises are partly because we’re all living longer, but more because we’re not heeding doctors’ advice about changing our unhealthy lifestyles.
So what exactly are we all doing wrong? And more importantly, how can we put it right?
As summer beckons, a new study from Harvard Medical School has found that sunbathing is addictive, releasing feel-good endorphins that keep us coming back for more.
But with diagnoses of malignant melanoma (skin cancer) on the rise, it’s crucial to be sun-safe and get to know your own skin so you can spot any changes.
Smith says survival rates are good compared to some other cancers because of early diagnosis.
“Know what’s normal for you and if you notice anything unusual, for example if a mole changes colour, see your GP. It’s really important for over 50s because the risk will increase more dramatically as you get older,” says Smith.
Weight and diet
It’s no secret our nation is battling an obesity epidemic- the number of obese adults ballooned between 1993 and 2012 from 13.2% to 24.4% of men and 16.4% to 25.1% of women.
How much we eat and what we eat has an enormous impact on our cancer risks, says Nicola Smith, Cancer Research UK health information officer.
“It’s a combination of your weight and where your weight’s distributed, so it’s your BMI and particularly belly fat,” she says.
“But it’s also what you’re eating, so lots of red meat and salt, not enough fibre, fruit and vegetables – having a healthy balanced diet can make a big difference.”
It can be tough to get up off the sofa, but according to Smith, “there are strong links between activity levels and breast cancer”, which has risen by 12%.
Getting active will not only lower our weight and cancer risk, it regulates our hormones, keeps our muscles and heart healthy and improves our general wellbeing.
“It doesn’t have to be training for a marathon or going to the gym,” says Smith.
“Just 20 minutes a day of moderate activity, even just walking to a bus stop or taking a dog for a walk - anything that raises your heart rate a little and gets you slightly out of breath.”
Who doesn’t feel they deserve a drink after a hard day? But opting for a ‘dry night’ once a week could really reduce your risk of getting cancer.
It’s not just the associated liver cancer that’s a worry - mouth cancer is on the rise too (up 48%) and Smith says this is partly to do with the consumption of alcohol.
“Rates of alcohol consumption have gone up a lot in this country the last few decades, but the more you lower your alcohol intake, the more you lower your risk,” she says.
“Cut back, even just one or two days a week when you don’t drink or have half a pint not a full, anything you can do will make a difference.”
Most of us now know smoking is bad for us, but do we know just how bad it is? “It’s linked to one in five cancer cases in the UK – and at least 14 different types of cancer including liver and oral, oesophageal, kidney and pancreatic cancer,” reveals Smith.
Like skin cancer, there’s a time lag between exposure to cancer-causing carcinogens and the cancer itself, so it’s more prevalent in people over 50.
“There’s a long lag between people smoking in the 1970s, and what’s happening now. It does take time for cancer to develop,” says Smith.
“But even quitting smoking when you’re 60, there’s still valuable years of life to gain.”