CAN YOU get involved in the fight against cancer – no money required!

The World Cancer Day initiative is led by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) who have invited organisations, institutions, communities and people who care about cancer to spread the word, and raise the profile of cancer in people’s minds.

For the last three years, the SCPN has held the annual Scottish Cancer Prevention Conference on World Cancer Day – February 4th. The numbers attending have almost doubled as more people become aware that we can reduce the risks for many cancers through changes in lifestyle. Our aim is to showcase excellent work around cancer prevention in Scotland, and network what is going on in research centres, communities and health boards across the country – but there is much to do and way too little capacity on preventive action.

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Cancer is said to be our number one fear but many people still think there is little that can be done to stop it happening – it’s genes, bad luck or fate. But, if we ask the experts, they tell us that about a third (32%) of 13 of the most common cancers in the UK could be prevented by changes in diet, physical activity and body weight.  Add in smoking, and the preventability estimate increases.

In Scotland, we cannot ignore cancer now, and we cannot ignore future predictions. Government figures show that the number of new cases of cancer is predicted to rise by 33% between now and 2023-2027. Women will be particularly vulnerable with increased predictions of 29% for lung cancer, 27.5% for breast cancer and 41% for bowel cancer. In part, these figures reflect an ageing population – but only in part. Genetics too play a part – but only a part -and indeed NHS investment in genetic services for identification of high risk patients is to be welcomed.  But where is the investment in effective public health?

Scotland has shown leadership in smoke free public places and on minimum pricing on alcohol so should be leading on effective ways to decrease obesity, poor diet and inactivity- but is it? Try finding an NHS weight management service!

 

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For the SCPN, supporting the fight against cancer isn’t just about engaging people with cancer prevention messages and raising awareness about the risk between poor lifestyles. Those activities are important because we know from tobacco control that people need to be aware of the dangers before they support government action. In the area of diet and obesity, we now have countless documents on “The Scottish Diet”, action plans, government “invitations” to retailers, route maps for obesity and a food policy designed to benefit the food (and drink) industry – none of which has improved our eating habits, our size or our disease risk. There isn’t disagreement on dietary ambitions for cancer prevention – the challenges have been well set out by the European Code Against Cancer evidence paper, and guidance is available, so it is particularly frustrating that no effective action has been taken to date.

However, last month saw a publication from Food Standards Scotland of a vision on how we can help to achieve dietary change in Scotland. These proposals are aimed at favouring healthy food choices by limiting marketing and availability of energy dense foods (and drinks) and reducing our excess energy intake through decreasing sugar, fats and portion sizes. The ambitions are so much bigger than mere education but offer help across all sectors of the population to improve Scotland’s health.

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I can support these plans wholeheartedly because there needs to be strong voices for supporting diet and lifestyle change for cancer prevention.  I think we can all work together to support governments who take effective actions to make the healthy diet and physical activity options the preferred options.  These actions aren’t about being sponsored to run races or alcohol free months; these actions are about cleaning up our environment from the junk food ads, protecting children’s health and cutting our cancer risk.

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– Professor Annie S. Anderson

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