To help prevent breast cancer, we need to look after our environment. The number of people who are currently living with cancer is in the region of 2.5 million. It is predicted that by 2030 over four million of us will be living with the disease.
This is a truly alarming number. The cost to the NHS alone is enormous – let alone the broader less quantifiable costs to society. There is no doubt about it, we all need to do more to help prevent people from getting this disease in the first place.
So what can we do to reverse this trend?
The recent NHS Cancer strategy (Achieving world-class cancer outcomes: a strategy for England 2015-2020) highlighted a number of priorities - including reducing the number of people who smoke, and a national action plan on obesity. These are all important and we think that by making these lifestyle changes a person can reduce the risk of getting breast cancer by around 30%.
According to the World Health Organisation, however, 19% of cancers worldwide could be attributable to our environments. Air pollution, in particular, exposes us to a wide range of carcinogenic and hazardous chemicals, and has been linked to respiratory infections, cardiovascular disease, and an increased risk of developing breast cancer. Those who live in deprived communities suffer disproportionately from the poorest air quality.
It is obvious that our health and the health of our environment are closely linked. An unhealthy, polluted environment makes it harder for us to live healthy lives.
However, how we tackle pollution and make our environment cleaner and healthier is a complex problem that reaches across government departments and policy areas. It links policies on public health, the environment, energy, business and transport. It requires measures to tackle immediate threats, such as a ban on plastic microbeads, but also requires a longer term strategy, that shapes future policies in a range of areas to ensure that our future will be cleaner, greener, and healthier.
Despite the complexity, significant progress has been made on improving our environment in recent decades, and there are opportunities for further gains. On air pollution, for example, we need a new Clean Air Act, to improve our air quality and ensure we don’t slip backwards once we leave the European Union.
If we are going to tackle the rising incidence of breast cancer, we must not only encourage people to live healthy lives, but also to ensure that they are living in a healthy environment. That is why I am supporting Breast Cancer UK’s breast cancer prevention week.