Tobacco was found to be the primary cause of avoidable cancers in both sexes, but the next biggest cause in men is a lack of fresh fruit and vegetables in their diets. In women it is obesity.
“We didn’t expect to find that eating fruit and vegetables would prove to be so important in protecting men against cancer,” said lead researcher Professor Max Parkin.
The report shows that tobacco, poor diet, alcohol and obesity are the cause of a third of all cancers diagnosed annually in the UK – more than 100,000. Taking into account another 10 lifestyle and environmental factors, that number rises to 134,000.
Calculations were based on the predicted number of cases for 18 different cancers in 2010, using incidence figures from 1993 to 2007.
The researchers studied four factors within the “diet” category: too few fruit and vegetables, consumption of red and processed meat, too little fibre and too much salt, and concluded that almost 10 per cent of cancers in 2010 (29,000) may be linked to diet.
Dr Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said the report showed changes in people lifestyles for the healthier could “significantly stack the odds in our favour” of not getting certain cancers.
“If there are things we can do to reduce our risk of cancer we should do as much as we possibly can,” he added.