Health

UK tops WHO gullet cancer table and obesity may be factor

Couple in Brockwell Park, London
Image caption Men are much more likely to develop AC gullet cancer, the WHO says.

The UK has the highest rate in the world of one of the two main cancers of the food pipe or gullet, the World Health Organization (WHO) says.

Men are about four times as likely as women to develop adenocarcinoma (AC), a type of oesophageal cancer, it says.

Obesity could be a factor in the development of the disease, partly because of excess stomach acid.

Obesity campaigners said UK gullet cancer figures were "a tragedy".

The UK had the highest rate of AC gullet cancer in the world for both men and women, according to figures from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the WHO.

It was followed by the Netherlands, Ireland, Iceland and New Zealand in terms of AC cancer rates.

The latest figures, from 2012, show the UK had a rate of 7.2 new cases per 100,000 for men, and 2.5 per 100,000 for women.

Waist circumference

Dr Melina Arnold, the lead author of the WHO study, told the BBC obesity was one of the main risk factors for AC because of increased acid reflux and other factors.

Image copyright SPL
Image caption Cancer cells under a microscope

A fall in the number of people infected with Helicobacter pylori bacteria, which reduce stomach acid, may also have led to more gullet cancer, she said.

Men are much more likely to develop gullet cancer than women, but the reasons for this are unknown.

"There is no clear scientific evidence explaining why are men more likely to be affected than women," Dr Arnold said.

"Sex hormones have been suggested to offer protection against this tumour in women. Breastfeeding, for instance, has been shown to decrease the risk for oesophageal AC in women.

"Men are also more likely to have a higher waist circumference, and these particular fat tissues produce hormones that have been suggested to increase the risk of AC."

The National Obesity Forum, a lobbying group, said the rate of gullet cancer mirrored a rise in the rate of obesity.

Spokesman Tam Fry said that deaths from oesophageal cancer in the UK were "a tragedy", and a warning that obesity could lead to "devastating conditions".

The risk of the other main type of gullet cancer, squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), is increased by smoking and drinking alcohol, said the WHO.

Very hot drinks, high-temperature cooking methods and poor mouth hygiene have also been linked to the disease, it said.

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