Half of the U.K. will develop cancer during their lives, according to a new study released Wednesday by the Cancer Research UK (CRUK). The analysis, published in the British Journal of Cancer, replaces a previous forecast by CRUK scientists who estimated that one in three people will develop the disease over their lifetimes.
The study, which arrived at the new calculation using a different method, said that rising life expectancies meant that more people would be affected by the disease over a lifetime, but lifestyle choices like smoking and obesity contributed to the number.
"Cancer is primarily a disease of old age, with more than 60 per cent of all cases diagnosed in people aged over 65. If people live long enough then most will get cancer at some point,” Professor Peter Sasieni of Queen Mary University of London, who authored the paper, told The Guardian. He, however, added that people can be encouraged to take up healthy habits such as exercising or quitting smoking, which could help lower the risk.
CRUK’s previous analysis assumed that the risk remained constant throughout the lifetime of a person, but the new method also accounts for changes in age and lifestyle. The study found that the risk for those born before 1960 was lower than for those born after that year primarily because people born after 1960 live longer. Men are also at slightly higher risk, with a lifetime risk of 54 percent, compared with 48 percent for women.
While the number of people who get cancer has increased, medical science’s ability to fight it off has also improved. The U.K.’s survival rate for cancer has doubled over the last 40 years, and more than half of its patients survive with the disease for over 10 years, Science Daily reported.
CRUK CEO Harpal Kumar told The Guardian that there are 200 types of cancer, and there would never be a single way to cure all of them. “I cannot foresee a time when that’s going to be the case. But already we’re able to cure a number of cancers now,” he said.
The study’s results increase the pressure placed on the U.K.’s National Health Service (NHS), which has reportedly failed to meet targets on treating cancer patients. "This isn't just about missed targets - consecutive breaches mean thousands of patients are being failed,” Sarah Woolnough, from CRUK, told the BBC.
Another study by the Health Services Management Centre at the University of Birmingham, says NHS cutbacks, combined with growing cancer rates, were likely to overwhelm the NHS in coming years, the Independent reported.
In 2013-2014, over 1.4 million patients in England were referred for suspected cancer, a 5 percent increase from 2009-2010. The U.K.'s Department of Health has said it has invested £750 million (about $1 billion) in cancer care over five years.