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Obesity: a major factor in the UK’s sharp rise in kidney cancer?

Would you like chips with that?  A pudding? Another drink? Yes, yes and yes! Eating lavishly: it’s easily done, whether at home or eating out.  Fast and calorie-rich foods have never been more accessible and are often seen as the quick and convenient option when our time is limited. But with 42%(1) of kidney cancers in the UK linked to major lifestyle factors – including obesity and being overweight – we can’t ignore the fact that our sometimes over-indulgent and inactive lifestyle appears to be finally catching up with us.

In the last ten years, new cases of kidney cancer have alarmingly risen by 40% (1) and projections show cases climbing by a further 26% (1) between 2014 and 2035.  This would make it one of the fastest-growing types of cancer; something that was observed recently when it was ranked as the eighth most common cancer in the UK in 2012 and one year later jumped to the seventh position (1).  Breaking these figures down, it is the fifth most common cancer in males and the tenth in females.

Obesity and being overweight are implicated in nearly a quarter of kidney cancers, with smoking linked to another quarter.  With the spotlight on the dangers of smoking in recent years, the number of people smoking in England has dropped to an all-time low (3), but obesity continues to rise.  In fact, the UK has the highest level of obesity in Western Europe: one in four British adults is obese according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (3).  Obesity levels in the UK have more than trebled in the last 30 years and, on current estimates, more than half the population could be obese by 2050.  This rise is largely blamed on our modern lifestyle: our increased reliance on cars, our sofa and television culture, our desk-bound jobs and the easy and relatively cheap access to high-calorie food.

Similar to smoking, where damage to cells lining the lungs builds up over time and increases the risk of cancer, damage from carrying excess weight accumulates over a person’s lifetime.  It is thought that being overweight and obese may increase kidney cancer risk by raising insulin, oestrogens and growth factors levels, and changing cholesterol metabolism or the immune system.

There are about 11,900 cases of kidney cancer each year and it kills half of those who develop it within ten years. The best chances of survival are from cases that are caught early on, however, many cases aren’t caught in the early stages as it is a notoriously difficult cancer to detect early on because the symptoms can be very vague and often attributed to something else.

So what can we do to halt this steep rise in kidney cancer?  First and foremost we need everyone’s help in spreading the word about this often forgotten disease so that we can encourage people to try and improve their lifestyle choices.  Making small changes in eating, drinking and being physically active is a productive way to reach a healthy weight and to help reduce your chances of developing many conditions, including kidney cancer.

Kidney Cancer UK have two exclusive videos to assist you with weigh management and dietary advice.

Cheryl Bishop – Exercise for Kidney Cancer Patients

Nutrition advice for kidney cancer patients

Note:

  • A person is considered overweight if they have a body mass index (BMI) between 25 and 29 and obese with a BMI of 30 and above.

References

(1) Cancer Research UK

(2) https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/sep/20/number-of-uk-smokers-falls-to-lowest-level

(3) http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/loseweight/Pages/statistics-and-causes-of-the-obesity-epidemic-in-the-UK.aspx

By:
Louise Abbott
Consultant Writer, Kidney Cancer UK