The cancers on the rise - and the decline - in the UK

Cancer cells attacking healthy human cell 3d render.
One in two people born after 1960 in the UK will develop cancer. [Photo: Getty]

Cancer is an emotional subject, with most having lost a loved one to the disease.

One in two people born after 1960 in the UK will develop the condition at some point in their life, Cancer Research UK data shows.

READ MORE: Pancreatic cancer: symptoms to look out for

Lifestyle habits - like smoking, too much processed meat or inactivity - are known to trigger the disease.

Genetics also play a role, with many cases being down to bad luck.

How have cancer rates changed in women?

Thyroid cancer increased by 76% in 10 years. [Photo: Cancer Research UK]

Of the 20 most common types of cancer, thyroid tumours have jumped most.

In women, the above chart - based on Cancer Research UK data - shows the disease was 76% more common in 2014-to-2016 than 2004-to-2006.

This was followed by liver cancer, which rose by 52% over the 10 years.

Kidney cancer, melanoma, and tumours of the head and neck were the next highest risers, up 44%, 35% and 25%, respectively.

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Not all cancers are becoming more common, however.

The above chart shows cancers of unknown origin went down by 36% in women between 2004/6 and 2014/16.

This occurs when cancer is only detected once it has spread, with doctors being unable to find where it started.

The second fastest decline was in stomach cancer, which went down by 28%.

Overall, female cancers have risen by 8%.

How have cancer rates changed in men?

Thyroid cancer has become 75% more common in men. [Photo: Cancer Research UK]

Thyroid cancer also had the biggest increase among men, rising by 75% between 2004/6 and 2014/16.

Similar to women, the above chart shows this was followed by liver cancer, which went up 61%.

The next fastest increases in cases were melanoma, kidney cancer and Hodgkin lymphoma, which rose by 55%, 38% and 22%, respectively.

Cancers of unknown origin have decreased just as fast in men as women, with a 36% decline.

This was followed by a 31% reduction in stomach cancer.

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For some diseases, the trends differed between men and women.

Lung cancer rose by 17% in women but went down by 10% in men.

Bowel tumours remained stable in females but reduced by 5% in males.

Oseophageal cancer was stable for men but went down by 7% in women.

The overall increase in cancer rates among men was smaller than in women, at 1%.

Why are some cancers becoming more common and others less?

Why some cancers are on the up and others are declining is unclear, with there likely being no one answer.

Scientists estimate around two-thirds of the overall increase is down to us living longer.

The average Brit lives to 80, compared to around 70 in 1960.

With us surviving longer, there are more opportunities for genetic “mistakes” to accumulate, triggering cancer.

Lifestyle habits may also explain why bowel cancer appears to be stabilising in women and declining in men.

A diet rich in red and processed meat has been linked to the disease, with the “plant-based movement” encouraging many to cut back.

Sunbathing and sunbeds may be why melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, has risen in both men and women.

Nationwide screening programmes could also explain why fewer cancers have an unknown origin.

For example, mammograms and smear tests allow doctors to spot breast and cervical cancers early, before they spread.

When it comes to stomach cancer, greater awareness around food preparation may mean less people become infected with the bacteria Helicobacter pylori, known to boost the risk.

“The increasing number of people getting cancer in the UK is mainly because people are living longer nowadays, and cancer is more common in older people,” Rachel Orritt, health information manager at Cancer Research UK, told Yahoo UK.

“The NHS must be prepared to cope with this alongside demands for better diagnostics, treatments, and earlier diagnosis.

“But around four in 10 cancer cases in the UK could be prevented, so it’s important to think about how we can reduce our risk too.

“Making positive changes can make a big difference if we stick to them.

“Stopping smoking, cutting down on alcohol and eating a healthy balanced diet all help to stack the odds in our favour.”