Health

Oesophageal cancer 'doubles in British men'

  • 28 August 2010
  • From the section Health
Men with beer bellies
Image caption Abdominal weight is a risk factor for oesophageal cancer

Cancers of the food pipe in Britain have doubled in men over 25 years, figures from Cancer Research UK show.

However, over the same period - 1983 to 2007 - cases in women only rose by 8%.

Researchers said the gender contrast in oesophageal cancer rates could be largely explained by the way men put weight on - as "beer bellies" - as well as genetic differences.

Men are also likely to have poorer diets, eating more fatty foods and lower amounts of fruit and vegetables.

Oesophageal cancer is the ninth most common cancer in the UK.

It is one of the most difficult cancers to detect and treat, with only 8% surviving for five years or more. The risk of developing the disease increases with age.

In 1983, about 2,600 men were diagnosed with oesophageal cancer (9.6 in every 100,000 men).

Latest figures show 5,100 men (14.4 in every 100,000) were diagnosed with the disease in 2007.

The number of cases in women rose from 5.1 to 5.5 per 100,000 people.

The most dramatic rise was among men in their 50s, where the rates rose by 67% over the period.

Poor survival

Professor Janusz Jankowski, an oesophageal cancer expert at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, whose work is backed by Cancer Research UK, said: "One basic issue is that men's diets are worse than women's.

"They tend to eat more fatty foods and less fruit and veg.

"Both of those things increase reflux disease, where acid comes up from the stomach."

But Professor Jankowski said obesity may be a big reason behind the increase.

"Being overweight significantly increases the risk of adenocarcinoma - the main type of oesophageal cancer that's on the up.

"Men tend to put weight on their abdomen as beer bellies and become oranges, - whereas women tend to put it on differently and become pears."

He said having fat on the abdomen was riskier in this context because it put pressure on the stomach.

The researchers are also studying genetic changes that also appear to be linked to the disease.

Dr Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at Cancer Research UK, said: "These new figures are particularly concerning as oesophageal cancer is a very difficult cancer to treat.

"Oesophageal cancer rates have risen dramatically in the UK compared with many other Western countries so we need to determine the underlying causes.

"To combat the poor survival rate for oesophageal cancer, Cancer Research UK is funding research to find new ways to identify the disease earlier and improve treatment so that more people beat the disease."

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