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bmi: ‘Smoking, alcohol use, high BMI linked to almost half of global cancer deaths’

Smoking, alcohol use, and high body mass index (BMI) are the greatest contributors to developing cancer, and almost half of global cancer deaths are due to these risk factors, a study published in medical journal Lancet has said.

Smoking, alcohol use, high BMI, and other known risk factors were responsible for nearly 4.45 million global cancer deaths in 2019, according to Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors (GBD) 2019 study.

The study suggested that global cancer deaths due to these risk factors increased by an estimated 20.4% between 2010 and 2019, and differed considerably based on countries’ level of development.

Half of all male cancer deaths in 2019 (50.6%, or 2.88 million) were due to estimated risk factors, compared with over one-third of all female cancer deaths (36.3%, or 1.58 million), it said.

The leading cause of risk-attributable cancer death for both men and women globally was tracheal, bronchus, and lung cancer, which accounted for 36.9% of all cancer deaths attributable to risk factors. This was followed by colon and rectum cancer (13.3%), oesophageal cancer (9.7%), and stomach cancer (6.6%) in men, and cervical cancer (17.9%), colon and rectum cancer (15.8%), and breast cancer (11%) in women.

“This study illustrates that the burden of cancer remains an important public health challenge that is growing in magnitude around the world,” said Christopher Murray, director of Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at University of Washington’s School of Medicine and a co-senior author of the study. “Smoking continues to be the leading risk factor for cancer globally, with other substantial contributors to cancer burden varying.”

The authors have called for investment in risk reduction strategies while strengthening health systems for early diagnosis and effective treatment.

In addition to 4.45 million cancer deaths, which made up 44.4% of all cancer deaths in 2019, risk factors included in the analysis accounted for 105 million cancer DALYs (disability-adjusted life-years, or years of life lost due to time lived in states of less than full health) globally for both sexes in 2019 – 42.0% of all DALYs in that year.