Cancer an environmental disease: World Cancer Atlas

Cancer is an environmental disease mainly caused by avoidable lifestyle factors, according to the latest evidence released today at the World Cancer Congress in Melbourne.

The findings, published by the Union for International Cancer Control and American Cancer Society in an update of the world Cancer Atlas, suggest cancer is more often caused by the environment a person lives in, rather than their innate biology.

The authors used evidence from studies of migrants to show that cancer risks change to match a person’s new environment, influenced by lifestyle and behavioural factors.

Cancer Council Queensland spokesperson Katie Clift said the findings emphasised the need for world action on cancer prevention and risk reduction.

“From environmental factors to tobacco, diet, occupational carcinogens and infectious agents, The Cancer Atlas highlights the burden of a variety of known cancer risk factors – many of them preventable,” Ms Clift said.

“By 2030, tobacco is projected to kill eight million people annually, unless we continue to introduce initiatives that help existing smokers quit and prevent others from taking up the lethal habit.

“The Atlas shows rates of overweight and obesity are increasing in countries at all income levels. Being overweight or obese increases the risk of some cancers.

“While rates of invasive melanoma are decreasing among young Queenslanders, more needs to be done to prevent skin cancer and ensure the SunSmart message is still getting through to the next generation.”

The Cancer Atlas estimates around 14 million new cases of cancer are diagnosed each year globally, with about eight million people dying from the disease.

The Atlas predicts that if trends continue, around one billion people will due during the 21st century because of tobacco use alone.

“This report is an important wake-up call for all of us, no matter where we live in Queensland, to do what we can to reduce our cancer risk,” Ms Clift said.

“The key to reducing cancer incidence lies in prevention.

“Around 47,000 breast cancer deaths worldwide could be avoided every year if physical inactivity was eliminated as a risk factor.

“Tobacco use, the cause of the most preventable cancers, can be reduced through initiatives like smoke free spaces, excise tax increases and restrictions on promotion.

“It’s absolutely imperative that all eligible Queenslanders participate in recommended screening and vaccination programs to reduce cancer rates.

“Early detection is also vital. Visit your GP regularly to discuss any symptoms or body changes that you may be experiencing, and look for lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your cancer risk.”

The Atlas provides a global overview of the burden of cancer, risk factors, methods of prevention and measures of control.

Smokers can obtain free information, practical assistance and support from Quitline, 13 QUIT (13 7848), or join the QUEST to quit at

Queensland workplaces, schools, childcare centres and sports clubs are invited to join the QUEST to live healthier lives and help beat cancer at

More information about Cancer Council Queensland is available via Cancer Council Helpline 13 11 20 or

For more information or interviews, please contact:
Katie Clift, Executive Manager, Media and Spokesperson, Cancer Council Queensland
Ph: (07) 3634 5372 or 0409 001 171