Will I get cancer? The short answer, no one knows for sure. The statistics show that over a life time 1 in 3 people will develop cancer.
“Statistics are for populations, not individuals, in the sense that while they are a guide as to what might happen to us in general, they cannot predict what will happen to you or me as an individual.“ My Surreal Slide: Doctor to Patient – Andrew Lawson Times Online.
So if statistics don’t tell us what will happen to us what is the point in collecting them? Well we have to start somewhere. Because we collect statistics we know that if you were diagnosed with breast cancer in 1946 you had a 37% chance of surviving, in 1998 that had increased to 77% and the numbers have continued to increase since 1998. [Data from the Nursing Times]
Half of all cancer can be prevented by lifestyle changes (not smoking, not drinking to excess, taking regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight). Eight out of ten cases of lung cancer in women are caused by smoking. Smoking also increases your risk of mouth cancer, voice box cancer, oesophageal cancer, liver cancer, pancreatic cancer, stomach cancer, kidney cancer, bladder cancer, cervical cancer and some types of leukemia. Other things that increase your risk are the type of job you do (e.g. whether you are exposed to asbestos or radiation in your work) and how much sun you are exposed to. There is more information on preventing cancer on the Cancer Research UK pages – Healthy Living or the World Cancer Research Fund website – Preventing Cancer.
That means that the other 50% of cancers can’t be prevented and for some people a healthy diet and an active lifestyle will not prevent them getting cancer. That doesn’t mean, it’s not worth following the advice, seat belts stop many people from getting seriously injured in car accidents. Some people will still get injured whether or not they wear a seat belt but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t belt up. Just because some fit healthy people develop cancer doesn’t mean it’s not worth being fit and healthy.
The table below gives you some idea of your risk of developing some of the most common types of cancer. Your risk of cancer increases as you get older, simply because the longer you live there is more of a chance of your DNA getting damaged. If you are under 25 years, your risk of getting breast cancer is 1 in 15,000. If you are over 80 it is 1 in 9. (For more information have a look at the Breast Cancer Care website)
If you are woman, in Scotland, under the age of 65 you have a 1.1% chance of developing colorectal cancer, or in other words a 1 in 90 chance of getting colorectal cancer.
If you are a woman and live to be 79 years old you have a 4.5% chance of developing colorectal cancer (or a 1 in 22 chance). Please keep in mind these are averages, no one knows for sure what will happen to you.
Average Risk of Developing Cancer (in women, in Scotland)
Data from NHS Information Services Division – Cancer in Scotland Summary (April 2009)
|Risk (%) if you are a women under 65 years||Risk (ratio) if you are a women under 65 years||Lifetime Risk (%) if you live to be 79 years*||Lifetime Risk (ratio) if you live to be 79 years*|
|Breast||5.4||1 in18||9.9||1 in 10|
|Colorectal||1.1||1 in 90||4.5||1 in 22|
|Lung||1.4||1 in 70||5.8||1 in 17|
|Ovary||0.8||1 in 125||1.7||1 in 59|
|Uterus||0.6||1 in 166||0.8||1 in 126|
|Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma||0.4||1 in 250||1.2||1 in 85|
|Skin (melanoma)||0.8||1 in 125||1.2||1 in 82|
|Stomach||0.2||1 in 500||1.0||1 in 100|
|Oesophagus||0.2||1 in 500||0.9||1 in 112|
|Head and Neck||0.4||1 in 250||0.9||1 in 117|
* 79 years is the average life expectancy of a woman in Scotland.
If you add up all the numbers in the Lifetime Risk (%) column, you will get 28%, which is where the 1 in 3 figure comes from. i.e. over a lifetime one person in three will develop cancer.
Do these numbers surprise you? Are they higher or lower than you think? Please feel free to leave a comment below