The Cancer Stat You Need to Know Now


We talk a lot about lowering your risk for cancer—coffee may lower your risk for skin cancer and tomatoes may lower your risk for prostate cancer—but what is your risk for cancer? While there are lots of factors that go into answering this question, the statistics don’t paint a pretty picture: Half of people in the United Kingdom will get diagnosed with cancer (including non-melanoma skin cancer), according to new estimates published in The British Journal of Cancer. This stat isn’t just shocking, it’s also increasing, since they also found that people born in 1930 have only a 37 to 39 percent risk for cancer.

“We’ve known for a long time that that proportion has been going up,” said Harpal Kumar, DSc, Cancer Research UK chief executive. “We had previously estimated that we would get to this ‘one-in-two’ point but though that we would get to it a little bit later. What these more recent and more accurate estimates have shown us is that we have been underestimate the risk.”

While higher life expectancy is responsible for about two-thirds of the increase, lifestyle factors also play a major role, explains Peter Sasieni, PhD, lead researcher and professor of biostatistics and cancer epidemiology at Queen Mary University of London.

“Cancer is primarily a disease of old age. If people live long enough then most will get cancer at some point,” he says. “But 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.”

While the latest figures stem from conducting research on British populations, Sasieni’s advice is still sound: There’s a lot we all can do to stay healthier, longer. According to American Cancer Society’s cancer facts and figures, in the U.S., more than 43 percent of men (about 1 in 2) and 38 percent of women (about 1 in 3), will develop cancer.