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Obesity as a risk factor for ovarian cancer

03 July 2019

CRUK obesity campaign

In today’s news, a story has been widely reported that obesity now causes more cases of ovarian, bowel, kidney and liver cancers in the UK than smoking.

Cancer Research UK has started a billboard campaign highlighting the link between obesity and cancer risk. The provocative ads feature the word ‘obesity’ in the style of old cigarette packaging. 

Around 7% of ovarian cancer cases are caused by being overweight or obese and 1% of cases are caused by smoking. However, whilst these figures highlight that it is important to lead a healthy lifestyle, they also show that the majority of ovarian cancer cases are unrelated to obesity.

The headline also points to a decline in the number of smokers. Official statistics from 2018 show the positive news that smoking prevalence in England is continuing to fall. 14.4% of adults in England smoke, down from 14.9% the previous year – a drop of almost 175,000. There are almost two million fewer smokers now than in 2011.

A much greater risk factor for ovarian cancer is carrying a hereditary risk of cancer. Around 15% of ovarian cancer cancers are linked to the BRCA gene mutation but this risk can be significantly reduced through taking preventative action. As a result, it is extremely important that everyone has an understanding of their family history of cancer. To explore your risk, visit: ovarian.org.uk/risk tool

We are currently funding research at the Ovarian Cancer Action Research Centre into how different risk factors play a role in ovarian cancer. 

Dr James Flanagan is investigating how changes to our genes can play a big part in our risk of developing cancer. Read more about his research here.

Dr Jonathan Krell is working on a risk algorithm that combines genetic risk estimates with environmental and lifestyle factors. Read more about his research here.