A new study shows the likelihood of developing cancer over a lifetime is higher than previously estimated. (Photo: Getty Images)
One in two people will develop cancer over the course of their lives, according to a new report from Cancer Research UK.
This number is creeping higher than past estimates, which have often cited a one-in-three figure. According to the new study published in the British Journal of Cancer, the odds of getting cancer over the course of one’s life jumped from 38.5 percent for men born in 1930 to 53.5 percent for men born in 1960. The hike was from 36.7 percent to 47.5 percent in women.
According to the American Cancer Society, the United States has very similar figures. Although health care is actually improving — in the UK, for instance, researchers note the cancer survival rate has doubled over the past 40 years — there’s an uptick in disease incidence because of the aging population.
“Cancer is primarily a disease of old age, with more than 60 percent of all cases diagnosed in people aged over 65,” says study author Peter Sesieni, a professor of Biostatistics & Cancer Epidemiology and Deputy Director of the Centre for Cancer Prevention at Queen Mary University of London, in a statement. “If people live long enough then most will get cancer at some point.”
This, the researchers say, is why education on cancer prevention is so necessary. “There’s a lot we can do to make it less likely — like giving up smoking, being more active, drinking less alcohol and maintaining a healthy weight,” Sesieni says. “If we want to reduce the risk of developing the disease we must redouble our efforts and take action now to better prevent the disease for future generations.”
Most experts also agree that spotting the disease early gives a person the best chance of beating it. However, many blow off symptoms as bodily quirks — and some may well be, but it’s best to talk to a doctor if there’s an unexplained issue.
According to Cancer Research UK, which conducted the latest study, these are the most common signs of cancer:
Signs of cancer for men and women:
An unusual lump or swelling anywhere on your body
A change in the size, shape or colour of a mole
A sore that won’t heal after several weeks
A mouth or tongue ulcer that lasts longer than three weeks
A cough or croaky voice that lasts longer than three weeks
Persistent difficulty swallowing or indigestion
Problems passing urine
Blood in your urine
Blood in your bowel motions
A change to more frequent bowel motions that lasts longer than four to six weeks
Unexplained weight loss or heavy night sweats
An unexplained pain or ache that lasts longer than four weeks
Coughing up blood
Signs of cancer for women:
An unusual breast change
Bleeding from the vagina after the menopause or between periods
Now, remember: This news should not cause mass panic, according to the UK’s Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies. People are living longer, which is why we’re seeing more cancer. “Cancer survival rates have improved to record levels in this country and we are working to raise awareness of cancer symptoms so it can be diagnosed earlier, improving cancer outcomes,” she says in the press release. “Leading a healthy lifestyle is easily the most effective thing you can do to reduce your risk, this means being active, quitting smoking, drinking less alcohol, and having a balanced diet.”