Posted on 23 February 2024

​Everyone knows someone who has either had cancer, or a family member affected by one. The dizzying statistic that 1 in 2 people could soon experience cancer points to disruptors in our environment and lifestyle, yet we remain complacent. The annual Cancer Prevention Action Week, organized by the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) wants to change that. The critical event focused on empowering individuals to adopt healthier lifestyle aims to promote practices to reduce the incidence of preventable cancers. Taking place from the February 19th to 25th 2024, this year's campaign underscores the importance of physical activity as a leading mitigator of risk of all types of metabolic diseases, but crucially the risk of certain cancer types. Countless studies consistently demonstrate that regular physical activity is associated with a decreased risk of various cancers but often it is proposed as a secondary or tertiary approach, instead of a main contributor to remission and successful treatment.

In the United Kingdom, where approximately 1,100 new cancer cases are diagnosed daily, it's noteworthy that up to 40% of these cases could be prevented through lifestyle modifications. Understanding the modifiable risk factors and implementing gradual lifestyle changes are paramount in averting preventable cancers and really underscores the urgency of this campaign of how many people needn’t have been in the position in the first place. Most people can point to drugs, alcohol or tobacco as common causes, but recent data is worth reviewing as it points to preventable causes as a leader of diagnoses:

  • Tobacco use: Smoking remains the leading cause of preventable cancer deaths in the UK, with lung cancer being one of the most prevalent forms. Vaping and tobacco substitutes definitely play a role in mitigating this risk.

  • Poor diet and obesity: Unhealthy dietary habits, such as consuming processed foods high in saturated fats and sugars, coupled with sedentary lifestyles leading to obesity, contribute significantly to the risk of developing various cancers, including colorectal, breast, and pancreatic cancers.

  • Alcohol consumption: Although an uncomfortable truth, excessive alcohol intake is associated with an increased risk of several cancers, including liver, breast, and colorectal cancers. Excessive, as a definition in this context, may be much less than you think.

  • Sun exposure: Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight or tanning beds increases the risk of skin cancers, such as melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers. Sun creams play a role in reducing these risks.

  • Infections: Certain infections, such as human papillomavirus (HPV), hepatitis B virus (HBV), and Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), are linked to an elevated risk of developing specific types of cancers, including cervical, liver, and stomach cancers, respectively. Treating H. pylori infection early, reducing risk of cervical cancer with the cervical cancer HPV vaccine and a healthy lifestyle contribute to mitigation of these risks.

Awareness of these common cancer causes underlines the paramount importance of Cancer Prevention Action Week and highlights the critical role of public education, lifestyle modifications, and government-funded research initiatives in combating preventable cancers. Through collaborative efforts, it is possible to make significant strides in reducing the burden of cancer and improving public health outcomes in the UK. This has been a wide campaign in UK politics in recent years, with many cancer moonshot plans proposed and enacted by administrations.

Notably, the UK government has demonstrated a commitment to cancer research and prevention through increased funding initiatives in recent years. Since 2023, the government has allocated substantial resources to bolster cancer research, prevention, and treatment efforts including drafting in the private sector and widening screening. These funding allocations have supported groundbreaking research endeavours aimed at elucidating the molecular mechanisms underlying cancer development and identifying innovative strategies for cancer prevention and early detection. Indeed, the large cost of early detection screening is offset by the reduced cost in the potentially undetected cancer treatment. Even when cancer does develop, there are huge efforts in the private sector to target cancers with novel drugs, including gene therapies which tackle defective chromosomes and genes which predispose people to astronomical risk of certain hereditary defects which lead to rare cancers.

Cancer Prevention Action Week 2024 is the way to raise awareness and promote the treatability of the disease and is happening this very week. The initiative provides an opportune period for heightened public engagement by messaging, pledges and people sharing their direct experience with cancer on social media. Participation in Cancer Prevention Action Week 2024 can be facilitated through the following approaches:

Risk assessment: Utilization of the Cancer Health Check tool, provided by WCRF, enables individuals to assess their adherence to established cancer prevention guidelines. Through an analysis of 11 pertinent questions pertaining to lifestyle factors, individuals can gain insights into their susceptibility to cancer and identify actionable preventive measures.

Support for research: Given the aforementioned statistic that one in two individuals in the UK will encounter a cancer diagnosis in their lifetime, contributions to cancer research are imperative. Every donation, regardless of magnitude, plays a crucial role in advancing scientific endeavors aimed at understanding cancer etiology, prevention, and treatment.

Raise hope: Cancer does not have to be a death sentence. Bodily checking, social engagement and awareness play a huge role in letting people know there is a point to deciding to get treatment, even if your symptoms are minor. There is no embarrassment in going to the doctor or accessing healthcare for something which turns out to be non-cancerous or benign, but there is regret and contemplation to be had if the symptoms are not addressed for a long time and the potential cancer is at a later, more aggressive stage.

Sterling Cross calls upon readers, clients and colleagues to uplift positive messaging about cancer diagnoses, treatment and prevention and even provide personal anecdote about the experiences we have with cancer, and how we don’t have to let cancer be a death sentence any longer.

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