Thousands of Scottish cancer cases 'avoidable' by lifestyle change

smoking, obesity and poor diet Image copyright Getty Images

Quitting bad lifestyle habits could cut cancer rates in Scotland by more than 40%, according to a charity.

Cancer Research UK said about 13,000 cases a year could be avoided through simple changes.

Analysis of recent figures suggested Scotland has the largest number of preventable cancer diagnoses in the UK.

Dealing with smoking, obesity and alcohol consumption could make the biggest difference.

Across the UK, the study found that more than 135,000 cases of cancer a year could be prevented.


The figures, calculated from 2015 cancer data, found that smoking remains the biggest preventable cause of cancer in Scotland despite a continued decline in smoking rates.

Tobacco smoke caused 21% of all male cancer cases and 16% in women in 2015, according to the research published in the British Journal of Cancer.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Smoking is the biggest preventable cause of cancer in Scotland

Excess weight is Scotland's biggest preventable cause of cancer after smoking.

About 7% of cases of cancer a year in Scotland - around six a day - are down to being overweight or obese.

This amounts to 8% of cases in women and 6% in men.

Obesity causes 13 types of the disease, including bowel, breast, womb and kidney cancer. The results suggest that more than 1 in 20 cancer cases could be prevented by maintaining a healthy weight.


In recent weeks, Cancer Research UK has been running a campaign across the UK featuring posters and radio adverts to increase awareness that obesity can cause cancer.

In light of the findings, the charity has renewed its call to the Scottish government to introduce legislation to restrict bargain buy special offers on junk food.

Prof Linda Bauld, the charity's prevention expert, based at the University of Stirling, said: "These research findings are startling in that, for the first time, we can see how many cases of cancer in Scotland could be prevented by things like not smoking and keeping a healthy weight.

"As part of its expected diet and obesity strategy, the Scottish government must tackle what is the biggest preventable health crisis of our generation and make a real difference to the future of everyone in Scotland.

"In the fight against obesity, laws to restrict the tempting junk food deals that are at the heart of Scotland's poor diet will be crucial."

Image copyright PA

The third biggest preventable cause of cancer in Scotland is infections, which cause about 1,400 cases of cancer a year. Most of these cases are linked to Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and H. Pylori.

Sir Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK's chief executive, said: "Leading a healthy life doesn't guarantee that a person won't get cancer, but it can stack the odds in your favour. These figures show that we each can take positive steps to help reduce our individual risk of the disease.

The Scottish government said it recognised the role lifestyle played in cancer rates, particularly smoking and obesity.

Public Health Minister Aileen Campbell said: "We have recently consulted on a package of bold measures which includes world leading proposals to restrict the promotion and advertising of foods high in fat, salt and sugar, including bargain buy special offers on junk food.

"Scotland is also the first part of the UK to have set a target to eliminate smoking from society by 2034.

"We have already reached a record low in the numbers of teenagers smoking, and halved the number of children being exposed to second hand smoke.

The preventable causes of cancer in Scotland

  • All preventable factors combined - 41.5% (13,038 cases)
  • Tobacco smoke - 18.2% (5,736 cases)
  • Overweight and obesity - 6.8% (2,153 cases)
  • Infections - 4.6% (1,441 cases)
  • Occupational exposures - 4.4% (1,373 cases)
  • UV radiation exposure - 3.7% (1,157)
  • Alcohol - 3.5% (1,110 cases)
  • Too little fibre - 3.5% (1,093 cases)
  • Radiation exposure - 1.8% (553 cases)
  • Processed meat - 1.6% (490 cases)
  • Air pollution - 0.9% (288 cases)
  • Too little physical activity - 0.5% (171 cases)

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