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16 November 2023

Nearly 2 million lives lost to preventable cancers each year across seven countries

Each year, 1.9 million lives are lost to cancers due to preventable risk factors across the UK, US and BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). This equalled to over 30 million years of life lost each year.

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Each year 1.9 million lives are lost to cancers caused by preventable risk factors across the UK, US and BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), according to a new study.

The study involving researchers from King’s, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), looked at the impact of four preventable risk factors - smoking, alcohol, overweight or obesity, and human papillomavirus (HPV) infections.

Together, these seven countries represent more than half of the global burden of cancer deaths each year. Smoking tobacco was by far the biggest driver of preventable cancer deaths, causing 1.3 million deaths – over two-thirds of preventable cancer deaths due to the four risk factors.

It also analysed the years of life lost to cancer, which allows researchers to see if some risk factors are causing deaths more prematurely and act as better measures of the impact of cancer deaths on society – for example, a cancer death at age 60 will result in more years of life lost than a death at age 80. Researchers found that the four preventable risk factors result in over 30 million years of life lost each year.

Preventable risk factors were associated with different cancer types in different places. For example, India had more premature deaths from head and neck cancer in men, and gynaecological cancer in women whereas lung cancer from tobacco smoking caused the most years of life to be lost in every other country.

Researchers believe that such discrepancies can be explained by looking at differences in cancer healthcare between the countries. For example, cervical screening is considered less comprehensive in India and South Africa, with the latter having mortality rates six times than the UK and US, both of whom have had successful HPV screening and vaccination programmes.

Gender differences were also highlighted, with men having higher rates of years of life lost to smoking and drinking alcohol and women having more cancer deaths due to obesity.

Across the globe, cancer is increasingly impacting low- and middle-income countries. Cancer Research UK analysis shows that new cancer cases are expected to rise by around 400%, from 0.6 million to 3.1 million per year in low-income countries over the next 50 years. Very-high-income countries like the UK are projected to see an increase of around 50% over the same time period.