In a peer-reviewed new research released recently, researchers from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), and Kings College London shed light on the profound consequences of smoking in seven major countries. The groundbreaking study funded by Cancer Research UK exposes the devastating impact of tobacco-related cancers, claiming 1.3 million lives each year across the UK, US, and BRICS nations.
.The study, which analysed preventable risk factors including tobacco, alcohol, overweight or obesity, and human papillomavirus (HPV) infections, revealed that these factors combined caused almost 2 million deaths annually.
According to the study findings, smoking emerged as the leading cause of preventable deaths, resulting in a staggering 20.8 million years of life lost annually, thereby underscoring the urgent need for united global efforts to combat tobacco use.
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The researchers further found that in the seven countries studied, including Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa, the UK, and the US, collectively representing over half of the global burden of cancer deaths, the researchers projected a concerning 400% increase in new cancer cases in low-income countries over the next 50 years, with high-income countries like the UK expected to see a 50% rise.
Employing a unique approach, the study analysed years of life lost to cancer, revealing that the four preventable risk factors resulted in over 30 million years of life lost annually. According to the study, smoking, in particular, had a profound impact on premature deaths.
Pointing out that there is regional and gender variation in the impact of risk factors, the researchers pointed out that the prevalence of specific cancers linked to HPV infection varied starkly between South Africa and the UK, emphasising the need for targeted interventions.
The study further found that men experienced higher rates of years of life lost to smoking and alcohol consumption, while women faced greater risks from being overweight or obese and HPV infections.
The researchers called for urgent steps to be taken to improve access to cervical screening and HPV vaccination in countries with significant gender imbalances.
Expressing concern over the staggering numbers and calling for decisive global action to address preventable cancers, Cancer Research UK's executive director of policy and information, Dr Ian Walker, said, “These numbers are staggering and show that with action on a global scale, millions of lives could be saved from preventable cancers.”
“Action on tobacco would have the biggest impact; smoking causes 150 cases of cancer in the UK every single day. Raising the age of sale here in England is a critical step on the road to creating the first-ever smoke-free generation, and we call on MPs from all parties to support the legislation,” he added.
Pointing out that there are cost-effective tools at hand to prevent cases of cancer, which can save lives around the world, Dr. Walker said, “Tobacco control measures are chronically underfunded. And as a recognised leader in global health, the UK Government can play a significant role in addressing this.”
Emphasising the need for countries to unite in the fight against cervical cancer, particularly, through comprehensive screening and HPV vaccination programmes, Dr Judith Offman, Senior Lecturer in Cancer Prevention and Early Detection at Queen Mary University of London, said, “Seeing how many years of life are lost to cancer due to these risk factors in countries around the world allows us to see what certain countries are doing well and what isn’t working.”
“Globally, someone dies every two minutes from cervical cancer. 90% of these deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries and could be cut drastically with comprehensive screening and HPV vaccination programmes,” she added.
Pointing out that HPV vaccination prevents cervical cancer, she further added, “This, coupled with cervical screening, could eliminate cervical cancer as a public health problem. Countries need to come together on this ambition.