UK women have 10th highest rate in world for cancers linked to inactivity

6 January 2014

Women in the UK have the 10th highest rate in the world for cancers linked to a lack of physical activity, according to recently released figures.

Western countries dominate the top ten list of global rates for bowel, breast and womb cancers. Being physically active is one way to protect against these cancers.

To coincide with New Year resolutions, World Cancer Research Fund has launched the 100 Calorie Challenge to help people reduce their cancer risk through small lifestyle changes, including being more physically active in everyday life.

The challenge offers tips on eating healthily and moving more to avoid the extra 100 calories that can lead to nearly a stone in weight gain over a year. After not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight is the best thing to do to reduce cancer risk.

Dr Rachel Thompson, Head of Research Interpretation at World Cancer Research Fund, said: “It is a major concern that women in the UK are placed so highly in the world for cancers that are partially preventable through people being more physically active.

“These figures reflect the sedentary lifestyles of many people in Western countries, with lots of us spending too much time sitting around and not incorporating physical activity into our daily routine. Regular activity can help strengthen the immune system, keep hormone levels healthy and the digestive system in good shape, all of which help reduce our chances of developing cancer.”

Scientists estimate that about 12 per cent of bowel and breast cancer cases and about 10 per cent of womb cancer cases in the UK could be prevented if people were more physically active. This amounts to preventing around 12,000 cases in the UK every year. Just 36 per cent of British women meet the government’s recommended physical activity guidelines of at least 30 minutes of moderate activity five days a week.

As well as being more physically active, women can reduce their risk of developing these cancers by maintaining a healthy body weight, following a healthy diet high in wholegrains, vegetables and fruits and low in red and processed meat, and not drinking alcohol.

Estimated number of cases diagnosed in 2012

(Age standardised rate / per 100,000 people)

  • Barbados - 347 / 154.9
  • Belgium - 15,740 / 154.5
  • Denmark - 8,275 / 154.2
  • Netherlands - 22,255 / 145.3
  • France - 80,398 / 140.1
  • Iceland - 334 / 136.3
  • Luxembourg - 605 / 134.9
  • USA - 347,663 / 134.4
  • Bahamas - 286 / 134.3
  • United Kingdom - 78,935 / 133.3

Other GLOBOCAN statistics – published by the International Agency for Research on Cancer last month (Dec, 2013) – show that UK women fall into the international top ten for cancer of the breast (7th), lung (10th) and ovary (10th).


Notes to editors:

  • The 100 Calorie Challenge provides practical and achievable tips to help people stay a healthy weight and lower their risk of cancer with a daily email for 21 days.
  • World Cancer Research Fund’s 10 Recommendations for Cancer Prevention includes a recommendation on physical activity that people are moderately active for at least 30 minutes a day.
  • Statistics on physical activity include preventability estimates for bowel, breast and womb cancer.
  • The International Agency for Research on Cancer is the specialised cancer agency of the World Health Organisation. It released the latest Globocan data on cancer incidence, mortality and prevalence worldwide on 12 December, 2013. (Ferlay J, Soerjomataram I, Ervik M, Dikshit R, Eser S, Mathers C, Rebelo M, Parkin DM, Forman D, Bray, F. GLOBOCAN 2012 v1.0, Cancer Incidence and Mortality Worldwide: IARC CancerBase No. 11 [Internet]. Lyon, France: International Agency for Research on Cancer; 2013. Available from:, accessed on 17/12/2013).
  • GLOBOCAN’s methods of estimation are country specific and the quality of the estimation depends upon the quality and on the amount of the information available for each country. Countries like the UK and US rate A1 (the highest score) for quality while Barbados and Bahamas rate G5 (towards the bottom of the spectrum).