Select Committee on Health Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by Cancer Research UK (OB 63)

  1.  Cancer Research UK is the biggest fundraising charity in the UK and the world's largest independent cancer research organisation. Cancer Research UK welcomes this inquiry into obesity and would like to bring to the attention of the Committee the link between obesity and cancer (1).

  2.  After smoking, obesity is the second most important preventable cause of cancer Among non-smokers, who now comprise the majority of the population, obesity is the most important preventable cause of cancer. Recent evidence suggests that obesity increases the cancer death-rate by about 35% in men and 45% in women (2).

  3.  The scientific evidence that obesity is harmful to health and places the individual at increased risk of cancer has never been stronger. The most recent US data, from a study of 900,000 adults, indicate that of all cancer deaths in non-smokers, one in seven in men and one in five in women can be attributed to overweight and obesity (2). In Britain, where obesity is less common than in the US, these results imply that about one in eight of cancer deaths in non-smokers of both sexes are due to being overweight or obese.

  4.  The role of obesity in the risk of developing cancer cannot be overemphasised. Recent reviews have highlighted significant links with post-menopausal breast cancer and cancers of the endometrium, gall-bladder and kidney. However, many other sites also contribute to the overall cancer risk (2, 3), including prostate cancer in men and cancers of the colon, rectum and pancreas in both sexes.

  5.  To date, the link between obesity and cancer has been poorly acknowledged outside the scientific community. There is a clear need to raise awareness of this issue both with healthcare professionals and within the public domain.

  6.  Cancer Research UK recognises current Government initiatives to reduce obesity and encourage a healthy diet. However, we urge the Government to consider measures to prevent people becoming initially obese. Weight reduction reduces the chance of developing heart disease or diabetes, but it is not yet known how much or how quickly an obese person who slims down actually reduces their risk of dying from cancer.

  7.  Recent published work outlining the link between cancer and obesity from which the Committee might be able to draw conclusions:

  1.  Peto J 2001 Cancer Epidemiology In The Last Century And The Next Decade. Nature 411:390-395

  2.  Calle E et al 2003 Overweight, Obesity, And Mortality From Cancer In A Prospectively Studied Cohort Of US Adults. NEJM 348:1625-1938

  3.  Key T et al 2002 The Effect Of Diet On Risk Of Cancer. Lancet 360:861-868

  4.  Bergstorm A et al 2001 Overweight As An Avoidable Cause Of Cancer In Europe. Int. J. Cancer 91:421-430

  5.  IARC Report 2001 The Role Of Weight Control And Physical Activity In Cancer Prevention. IARC Handbooks of Cancer Prevention, volume 6.

May 2003

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