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Who's at risk and why?

Adults :: Cancer :: Who's at risk and why?

A number of factors play a part in determining an individual's risk of developing cancer and the outcome if they do develop it. Some of these are fixed such as age, sex and genetics. Others relate to the individual's lifestyle. Smoking is the single biggest cause of cancer and it is estimated that around 50% of all current smokers are likely to be killed by their smoking habits. Smoking increases the risk of cancers of the lung, bladder, cervix, kidney, larynx, lip, mouth and pharynx, oesophagus, pancreas, stomach and some types of leukaemia.[1] Alcohol has been linked to increased risk of cancer of the mouth, larynx, oesophagus, liver, breast and bowel.

Diets high in fats and proteins and low in fruits, vegetables and fibre increase the risk of colorectal (bowel) cancer.[2] Being overweight or obese are the most important known avoidable causes of cancer after tobacco.[3] Other risk factors for cancer include: lack of exercise and excessive exposure to ultraviolet light.

  Smoking (2015) Excess weight (2013-15) Binge drinking (2006-08)
Medway 22.3 65.6 17.2
England 16.9 64.8 20.0
Table 1: Lifestyle related risk factors [4][5]

Table 1 shows the estimated prevalence of cancer risk factors in Medway in comparison with England. The prevalence of smoking and excess weight (obesity and overweight categories combined) is higher in Medway than the England average.

Issues of inequality

Smoking prevalence is significantly higher in the routine and manual groups in Medway (29.7%) compared with England (26.5%)[4]. Higher cancer mortality rates in BME communities than the general population explained by the lower levels of awareness of major risk factors for cancer and cancer symptoms and lower help seeking behaviour amongst this group. This phenomenon has been observed nationally.[6]


[1]   Cancer Research UK. Smoking and Cancer
[2]   Cancer Research UK. Diet, healthy eating and cancer
[3]   World Health Organisation, Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases, Report of a Joint WHO/FAO Expert Consultation 2003; World Health Organisation. .
[4]   Public Health England. Public Health Outcomes Framework data tool
[5]   Public Health England. Percentage of the population aged 16+ that binge drink, modelled estimate, 2006-08
[6]   Robb.K., Stubbings.S., Ramirez.A., Macleod.U., Austoker.J., Waller.J., Hiom.S., WardleJ.. Public awareness of cancer in Britain: a population-based survey of adults British Journal of Cancer 2009; 101: S18-23.