People with cancer can now expect to live longer – but are we missing the point?

Monday, August 1, 2016

People diagnosed with cancer are twice as likely to live 10 years or more than they were in the 1970s says a new report from Macmillan Cancer Support. The main reasons people are surviving cancer longer are earlier detection and improved treatment. Although this is good news, MacMillan warns that although patients live longer, many of them are being left to struggle with devastating health and emotional side-effects.  

What the headlines are not saying is that more people than ever are being diagnosed with cancer. In the UK, one in every two people born after 1960 will be diagnosed with cancer during their lifetime. The number of people living with cancer in the UK is increasing by 3.2 per cent every year. Part of the reason is that we are living longer but lifestyle and diet is playing a part too.

The World Health Organisation warns that poor diets account for around 30 per cent of cancers in western countries making diet second only to tobacco as a preventable cause of cancer. A large body of evidence shows how meat and dairy foods increase the risk of cancer while a vegan diet (containing plenty of fruit, vegetables, pulses - peas, beans and lentils, wholegrain foods, nuts and seeds) can lower the risk of cancer and other diseases. Two key studies show that vegetarians have an 8-11 per cent lower risk of cancer and vegans, a 16-19 per cent lower risk.

To find out more about how you can lower your risk of cancer see Viva!’s Incredible Health Report.

Links to the news:

Guardian: Thousands of cancer sufferers surviving decades after diagnosis

Daily Mail: Twice as many patients now survive cancer for ten years after diagnosis: Number beating disease soars since 1970s

Telegraph: Quarter of cancer patients diagnosed in 80s still suffering ill-effects


Additional notes and links to the science:

The study from the University of Oxford included 61,647 British men and women (32,491 meat-eaters, 8,612 fish-eaters, 18,298 vegetarians and 2,246 vegans) among whom there were 4,998 cases of cancer. Results showed that compared with meat-eaters, cancer incidence was 12 per cent lower in fish-eaters, 11 per cent lower in vegetarians and 19 per cent lower in vegans.

Key TJ, Appleby PN, Crowe FL, Bradbury KE, Schmidt JA and Travis RC. 2014. Cancer in British vegetarians: updated analyses of 4998 incident cancers in a cohort of 32,491 meat eaters, 8612 fish eaters, 18,298 vegetarians, and 2246 vegans. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 100 (1 Suppl) 378S-385S.

The results of the US Adventist Health Study II (AHS-2) were similar with total cancer risk significantly lower in vegetarians and vegans than in meat-eaters. This included 69,120 people among whom 2,939 cancer cases were identified during an average of four years. Vegetarians had an eight per cent lower risk of cancer and vegans had a 16 per cent lower risk. In addition to this, vegan women experienced 34 per cent fewer female-specific cancers.

Tantamango-Bartley Y, Jaceldo-Siegl K, Fan J and Fraser G. 2013. Vegetarian diets and the incidence of cancer in a low-risk population. Cancer Epidemiology and Biomarkers Prevention. 22 (2) 286-294.

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