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Cancer is the biggest cause of premature deaths up to 75 years of age in the UK population

In 2014, 32% (over 88,000) deaths in men and 27% (over 78,000) deaths in women were caused by cancer.

What is cancer?

Cancer can start in any of our normal body cells. When there is a change in one of the genes in the DNA inside one of our cells, it is called a mutation. These mutations can happen through natural processes inside a cell, faulty genes can be inherited or it can happen randomly when a cell divides.

A mutation can also be caused be something coming in from outside our bodies cells, such as the chemicals in tobacco smoke, certain foods we eat (or how we cook them) or radiation. One mutation can cause a cell to grow out of control and once there has been around 6 of these mutations in a cell, it becomes cancerous and keeps dividing and growing.

This can happen for years before the cancerous cells have formed a tumour that has grown big enough to cause any ill effects and show up on any scans.

Cancer in the media

Cancer in the media

Printed and online media

There are regular stories and articles in the media about various lifestyle, environmental and dietary sources of supposed increased or decreased cancer risk, some of the most widely reported have been:

  • Electronic and communication devices (mobile phones, wifi, power lines)
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Cosmetics and toiletries
  • Plastic containers (drinks bottles, tubs)
  • Hormones used in milk and dairy products (Banned for use in or import into the UK)
  • X-rays and body scans
  • Stress
  • Media reported cancer-preventing food and nutrient sources
  • Vitamin and mineral supplements
  • Green tea
  • Superfoods
  • Soy
  • Milk and dairy products (Evidence has shown dairy products could reduce bowel cancer risk)

When looking for information on cancer and potential factors for both risk and prevention, it's important to make sure that it comes from reliable sources.

Despite the amount of media headlines about the above sources, apart from dairy products and bowel cancer risk. There is no good scientific evidence to show that any of them either cause or are protective against developing cancer.

Cancer risk prevention

Cancer risk prevention

Fruit and vegetables

There is a lot of good evidence, that shows many cases of cancer can be prevented by making positive dietary and lifestyle changes. Experts estimate this could be more than 4 in every 10 cases of cancer. Many of these changes are listed below:

  • Not smoking
  • Eating a healthy balanced diet
  • Eating less salt
  • Reducing levels of red and processed meat
  • Maintaining a healthy body weight
  • Keeping active
  • Drinking less alcohol
  • Being careful when out in the sun

Cancer and diet

People eating diets that contain good amounts of different vegetables, fruits and other foods high in fibre have consistently shown in studies to have a lower incidence of cancer of the mouth, throat, voice box, lung and certain types of stomach cancers. It's thought this is due to the fibre, feeding beneficial bacteria in the stomach, leading to them producing more helpful chemicals as well as the fibre helping to cause more frequent bowel movements.

Lots of good studies have shown that diets high in salt are linked to an increased risk of stomach cancer, which is thought to be caused by the salt damaging the lining of the stomach or more making it more sensitive to cancer-causing chemicals.

Eating a lot of red and processed meat has been shown to cause an increase in risk of bowel and possibly stomach and pancreatic cancers, this is thought to be due to the natural chemicals formed during the processing and cooking of the meat at high temperatures. The natural chemicals may irritate or damage cells in the bowel or cause bacteria in the stomach to produce harmful chemicals, those formed during meat processing and cooking can be converted into known cancer-causing chemicals.

Cancer and bodyweight

Research has shown that being overweight is the cause of many types of cancer. It's well known that fat cells don't just sit in the body, they are active and produce many hormones and proteins that circulate around the body, affecting lots of different areas, increasing the risk of different cancer types. Having excess body fat around the belly area, in particular, is known to be even more harmful, this is thought to be related to how quickly certain types of these hormones and proteins are released into the blood.

As well as eating a healthy balanced diet, keeping physically active will also help with weight management, not only that, exercise has been shown to help move food quickly through the bowel as well as reducing the levels of inflammation. Both of these processes help to reduce the risk of developing cancer in the bowel.

To find out more about how positive diet and lifestyle changes can affect the risks of developing cancer and help those of us who might currently be dealing with cancer, take a look on our news pages for links to more information.