Tobacco, Alcohol, Junk Food, Obesity … 40% of Cancer is Preventable

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40percent of cancer is preventable with a change of lifestyle

Of the 346,000 cancer patients diagnosed in 2015, 142,000 could have been prevented if the patients had not been exposed to risk factors, say the health authorities. 

Tobacco first, then alcohol , a poor diet, and finally obesity are the four main factors in France for 40% of cancer patients that would be “avoidable”, according to figures released Monday by two health authorities. 

Each of these risks kills much more than it should, say the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the World Health Organization and Public Health France.

142,000 cancer patients could have been avoided in 2015

Of the 346,000 cases of cancer diagnosed in 2015 among those aged 30 and over, ” 142,000 (41%) could have been avoided if the entire population had not been exposed to the risk factors studied, or if its exposure had been limited, “writes IARC in a statement.

Cancer is the leading cause of death in France, in front of cardiovascular diseases. Tumors killed 164,000 people in 2013, according to the Ministry of Health.

“Too few French people are aware of the risks they are taking,” said Minister Agnès Buzyn at the centenary of the Cancer League in March.

She defended her policy against tobacco, which in 2015 was responsible for 20% of new preventable cases. This represented 68,000 diagnoses.

Adverse consequences of smoking, especially for women

Smoking-related cancers (mainly, but not only lung cancers) mainly affect the working classes, with a risk “1.5 to 2 times higher among the 20% most disadvantaged, compared to the 20% most favored “, Said IARC.

Although men have been smoking less and less since the 1950s, Santé Public France recalls the “mass entry of women into smoking” in the “baby-boom” generation (born between 1945 and 1965). In terms of number of cancers, this appeal of smoking among women “will have harmful consequences that will increase” until around 2045.

Daily smokers in France. (© AFP / Archives / Simon MALFATTO)
Daily smokers in France. (© AFP / Archives / Simon MALFATTO)

Alcohol: France can do better

Alcohol causes 8% of new preventable cancer cases (28 000), cancers of different parts of the digestive system, but also breast.

The authors felt that France could do much better in the prevention of alcoholism. IARC advocates for cost action such as “rising prices and tax levels”.

Public Health France considers that “preventive actions are not so far developed as those aimed at reducing smoking”. It underlines the preponderance of wine in the country’s alcohol consumption (59% of the volume), far ahead of the strong spirits (21%) and the beer (19%).

High consumption of red meats and processed meats

Unbalanced diet and obesity are each responsible for 5.4% of new cancer cases (18,800 and 18,600 respectively).

On the junk food side, IARC points out the risk of “low consumption of fruits, vegetables, dietary fiber and dairy products, as well as a high consumption of red meats and processed meats”. This phenomenon affects men more.

Side overweight and obesity, the opposite is true: women are more concerned, this risk factor being important in breast cancer and uterine body (endometrium).

Lack of awareness of risks

Other “avoidable” risk factors are less common. There are “infectious agents” (4% of new cases) such as human papillomavirus or H. pylori bacteria, and “occupational exposures” (3.6%), such as asbestos or pesticides . Then there are other factors: radon in indoor air, air pollution, chemicals in the environment, and so on.

Public Health France was also alarmed by a certain lack of knowledge of the risks. “Too many people surveyed imagined that drinking sodas or eating hamburgers would be as bad for you as drinking alcohol,” said the health agency.

Tobacco, Alcohol, Junk Food, Obesity ... 40% of Cancer is Preventable 1

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