Cancer is the UK’s biggest killer so how does funding for cancer prevention compare to something like road safety?

Mortality statistics for England and Wales show that over 143,000 people died from cancer in 2011 (30% of all recorded deaths). In the same period there were 1,815 deaths from transport accidents (including road traffic accidents, water transport accidents and air and space transport accidents).

In 2011/12, the UK government spent £4 million on road safety campaigns which equates to just over £42 per week per transport accident death (Note: in 2008/09 the government spent £19 million on road safety campaigns!).

How does this compare to spending on cancer prevention?

In 2010, the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) spent just over £2 per week per death on the National Prevention Research Initiative (NPRI). In over words there was 21 times more money spent per death on road safety than on cancer prevention, despite the fact that for each person dying from a traffic accident nearly 80 died from cancer.

The NCRI is a UK-wide partnership between the government, charity and industry that promotes co-operation in cancer research. In 2010 its funding was £504 million, but just 3.4 per cent of this was spent on prevention, despite key members of NCRI, such as Cancer Research UK, stating that “prevention is better than cure.”

So where does the money go?

The majority is spent on biological research and treatment.

Now, before I start getting lots of negative feedback, let me make it clear that I am not against the use of medical treatments.

Indeed, the surgery and treatment my Dad received for cancer of the kidney enabled him to recover and live an active life for 8 years before his cancer returned and he passed away aged just 50. I will always be grateful for the treatment he received and the way the medical profession continues to help millions of people around the world.

What I am concerned about is how little of the funding for cancer research is spent on prevention.

In September 2013, Prime Minister David Cameron confirmed plans to invest an additional £400 million in the Cancer Drugs Fund.

This fund provides patients in England with access to life-extending drugs not yet routinely available on the NHS. A total of £1 billion has now been invested in the fund since it was first established in 2010.

I wonder how many lives could be saved if £1 billion was spent on education about lifestyle changes that can reduce cancer risk.

Can lifestyle changes really make a difference?

Put simply, yes and not just for cancer. Not all cancers are down to lifestyle, but our lifestyles can definitely make a difference and either increase or lower our risk.

In 2008, a large study worked out how a combination of four healthy behaviours would affect your health. These were: not smoking; keeping active; moderating how much alcohol you drink; and eating five daily portions of fruit and vegetables.

People who ticked all four healthy boxes gained an average of 14 years of life compared to people who did not do any of them. By the end of the study, they were less likely to have died from cancer or heart disease.

Another study suggests a third of cancers are linked to smoking, alcohol, diet or being overweight.

Dr Kate Allen, executive director of science and public affairs at the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) says “a significant proportion of people don’t realise that there’s a lot they can do to reduce their risk of cancer. By eating healthily, being physically active and keeping to a healthy weight, we estimate that about a third of the most common cancers could be prevented.”


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