16. The fraction of cancer attributable to lifestyle and environmental factors in the UK in 2010

Br J Cancer. 2011 Dec 6;105 Suppl 2(Suppl 2):S77-81. doi: 10.1038/bjc.2011.489.


This chapter summarises the results of the preceding sections, which estimate the fraction of cancers occurring in the UK in 2010 that can be attributed to sub-optimal, past exposures of 14 lifestyle and environmental risk factors. For each of 18 cancer types, we present the percentage of cases attributable to one or all of the risk factors considered (tobacco, alcohol, four elements of diet (consumption of meat, fruit and vegetables, fibre, and salt), overweight, lack of physical exercise, occupation, infections, radiation (ionising and solar), use of hormones, and reproductive history (breast feeding)).Exposure to less than optimum levels of the 14 factors was responsible for 42.7% of cancers in the UK in 2010 (45.3% in men, 40.1% in women)--a total of about 134,000 cases.Tobacco smoking is by far the most important risk factor for cancer in the UK, responsible for 60, 000 cases (19.4% of all new cancer cases) in 2010. The relative importance of other exposures differs by sex. In men, deficient intake of fruits and vegetables (6.1%), occupational exposures (4.9%) and alcohol consumption (4.6%) are next in importance, while in women, it is overweight and obesity (because of the effect on breast cancer)--responsible for 6.9% of cancers, followed by infectious agents (3.7%).Population-attributable fractions provide a valuable quantitative appraisal of the impact of different factors in cancer causation, and are thus helpful in prioritising cancer control strategies. However, quantifying the likely impact of preventive interventions requires rather complex scenario modelling, including specification of realistically achievable population distributions of risk factors, and the timescale of change, as well as the latent periods between exposure and outcome, and the rate of change following modification in exposure level.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Diet
  • Environment*
  • Environmental Health*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Style*
  • Male
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Neoplasms / etiology
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects
  • Risk Factors
  • Smoking / adverse effects
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology