The growing incidence of cancer: role of lifestyle and screening detection (Review)

Int J Oncol. 2007 May;30(5):1037-49. doi: 10.3892/ijo.30.5.1037.


The increasing incidence of a variety of cancers after the Second World War confronts scientists with the question of their origin. In Western countries, expansion and ageing of the population, as well as progress in cancer detection using new diagnostic and screening tests cannot fully account for the observed growing incidence of cancer. Our hypothesis is that environmental factors play a more important role in cancer genesis than it is usually agreed: i) over the last 2-3 decades, alcohol consumption and tobacco smoking in men have significantly decreased; ii) obesity is increasing in many countries, but the growing incidence of cancer also concerns cancers not related to obesity nor to other lifestyle-related factors; iii) there is evidence that the environment has changed over the same time scale as the recent rise in cancer incidence, and that this change included the accumulation of many new carcinogenic factors in the environment; iv) genetic susceptibility to cancer due to genetic polymorphism cannot have changed over one generation and actually favours the role of exogenous factors through gene-environment interactions; v) age is not the unique factor to be considered since the rising incidence of cancers is seen across all age categories, including children; vi) the fetus is specifically vulnerable to exogenous factors. A fetal exposure during a critical window period may explain why current epidemiological studies may be negative in adults. We therefore propose that the involuntary exposure to many carcinogens in the environment contributes to the rising trend in cancer incidence.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging
  • Alcohol Drinking
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Life Expectancy
  • Life Style
  • Male
  • Mass Screening / trends*
  • Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Risk Factors
  • Smoking