Study: 1 in 2 Brits will get cancer in their lifetimes

More likely to get cancer if he was born after 1960.
More likely to get cancer if he was born after 1960.
Image: Reuters/Darren Staples
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People born in the UK since 1960 have more than a 50% chance of developing cancer, according to new research published in the British Journal of Cancer [via Science Daily]. This likelihood is an increase from the approximately one-in-three lifetime chance faced by people born in 1930.

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The increase is mostly due to an increase in life expectancy—risk of cancer increases with old age, so the longer people live the more likely they are to develop cancer. Even when controlling for age, researchers found that cancer rates are increasing, says co-author Nick Ormiston-Smith, the head of statistics at Cancer Research UK. That doesn’t mean prevention efforts are futile. Personal lifestyle choices—eating healthy, avoiding obesity, cutting back on smoking and alcohol—can all curb cancer development, Ormiston-Smith tells Quartz.

As a Cancer Research UK blog post on the study explains, different habits in the UK are contributing to the rise of specific cancers:

For example, diets high in red and processed meats have contributed to the rise in bowel cancer cases. And more and more people are becoming overweight and obese in the UK, which raises the risk of developing a number of cancers. And our culture of sunbathing and using sunbeds is contributing to rising rates of melanoma skin cancer.

In the US, there’s about a 40% lifetime risk of developing cancer. It’s difficult, however, to compare cancer risks across countries, because of differences in data and causes or types of cancer. (The World Health Organization does maintain numbers on incidences in different countries.)

In developing countries, meanwhile, cancer risk also is associated with high risk of infections, Ormiston-Smith says. For example, the World Health Organization notes that in low- and middle-income countries, HPV and Hepatitis B and C cause as many as one in five cancer deaths.