Report's focus on 'lifestyle' cancers criticised
A report that concluded nearly half of cancers diagnosed in the UK each year - over 130,000 in total - are caused by avoidable lifestyle 'choices' including smoking, drinking and eating the wrong things, has been criticised for downplaying occupational and environmental cancer risks and the social class effects that consign many workers and their families to multiple risks. The report published last week in the British Journal of Cancer claims to be the most comprehensive analysis to date on the subject. Lead author Professor Max Parkin said: 'Looking at all the evidence, it's clear that around 40 per cent of all cancers are caused by things we mostly have the power to change.' The report concluded one in 25 (4.9 per cent) of cancers is linked to a person's job, an estimate based on but significantly lower than that identified in an analysis conducted for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Research by Lesley Rushton for HSE made a 'conservative' estimate of 1-in-19 cancers (5.3 per cent) related to work. The Alliance for Cancer Prevention, which includes unions and safety and environmental campaign organisations, said that 'while in the report consideration is given to a small number of the confounding environmental and occupational risk factors, they are narrowly defined, inadequately addressed and their impact sorely underestimated.' Professor Richard Clapp, a cancer expert from the Boston University School of Public Health, commented the section on 'cancers attributable to occupational exposures' read 'like a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma... with lots of uncertainties about the effect of multiple exposures, lack of information, etc.' He added: 'Nevertheless, despite all the limitations and probable underestimates, the author lists occupation fifth, with 11,494 cases in 2010. This strikes me as a massive annual burden on working people in the UK and well worth all reasonable efforts to reduce it.' A TUC spokesperson commented: 'The prevention of workplace cancers is one of the top priorities for unions. We know that many thousands of people are dying unnecessarily because of the failure of employers to protect workers. We need, not only strong regulation, but also enforcement of existing regulation. Unfortunately that is now less likely given the current government's decision to cut the number of workplace inspections that are done.'
D Max Parkin and others. The fraction of cancer attributable to lifestyle and environmental factors in the UK in 2010, British Journal of Cancer, volume 105, Issue S2 (Si-S81), 6 December 2011. Alliance for Cancer Prevention news release. BBC News Online. The Guardian and related letters.
Issued: 16 December, 2011