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BMJ. 2007 August 18; 335(7615): 322.
PMCID: PMC1949470

Skin cancer is on the increase—but incidence of lung cancer is falling

The incidence of some cancers is rising in the United Kingdom because of people's lifestyle choices, says Cancer Research UK.

The charity has published new statistics showing steady rises in the numbers of cases of some types of cancer that are linked to excessive exposure to sun, alcohol consumption, smoking, and obesity.

The number of new diagnoses of malignant melanoma—the most dangerous form of skin cancer—rose from 5783 in 1995 to 8939 in 2004, making it the fastest rising cancer in the UK. This represented an increase in incidence per 100 000 people, adjusted for age, of 43%.43%.

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The incidence of oral, uterus, and kidney cancers has also risen in the 10 years to 2004, says Cancer Research UK. And it adds that around half of all cancers could be prevented if people modified their lifestyle.

The new figures, published by the charity and the UK Association of Cancer Registries, show that:

  • From 1995 to 2004 the number of new diagnoses of oral cancer rose from 3696 to 4769 (six cases in every 100 000 people in the UK population), an increase in age standardised incidence of 23%
  • Cancer of the uterus rose from 5018 to 6438 (16.8 per 100 000), a 21% increase in age standardised incidence, and
  • Cancer of the kidney rose from 5636 to 7044, a 14% increase in age standardised incidence.

Together these four types of cancers account for almost 10% of all the 284 560 new diagnoses of cancer in the UK in 2004.

Over the same period, however, the incidence of cervical cancer fell, as a result of the national screening programme, and the incidence of lung cancer continues to fall, thanks in part to successful smoking cessation campaigns.

The number of new diagnoses of cervical cancer fell from 3478 in 1995 to 2726 cases in 2004 (a fall in age standardised incidence of 24%) and those of lung cancer fell from 40 787 to 38 313 (13%). However, lung cancer, with an incidence of 47.6 per 100 000 in 2004, is still the commonest cancer.

Ian Fentiman, professor of surgical oncology at Guy's, King's and St Thomas' School of Medicine, London, said the new statistics were important but had to be considered in context.

“These are certainly not the biggest cancers out there,” he said. “The things we should still be panicking about are things like smoking, because lung cancer is still a mega-killer.

“Very soon lung cancer will take over from breast cancer as the major malignant killer of women in the UK.”

Heavy exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun is by far the main cause of malignant melanoma, said Sara Hiom, director of health information at Cancer Research UK.

She said, “We're very concerned that cases of malignant melanoma are spiralling. Exposure to UV radiation in sunlight is the main cause of skin cancer. Most cases of this disease could be prevented if people protected themselves in the sun and took care not to burn.”

The fact that the number of cases of oral cancer has increased by almost a quarter over the decade was also linked to lifestyle choices. Ms Hiom said, “Most cases of mouth cancer occur in people who smoke or chew tobacco and regularly drink alcohol.”

The charity believes that the rise in numbers of cancers of the uterus and of the kidneys may be linked to the growing prevalence of obesity in the UK population, as well as to smoking.

Lucy Morrish, statistical information manager at Cancer Research UK, who compiled the figures, said, “While incidence rates for some cancers have fallen over the past decade, others are rising, and many of these cases could be prevented if people avoided excessive sun exposure, smoking, and obesity and limited their alcohol intake.”

Notes

Details of the incidence of cancers in the UK in 2004 are at http://info.cancerresearchuk.org/cancerstats/incidence/.


Articles from The BMJ are provided here courtesy of BMJ Publishing Group