More British women are developing cancer than the average across Europe a leading charity claims.
Official figures suggest almost a fifth more women in this country develop the disease before the age of 75 compared with those on the continent.
The World Cancer Research Fund, which unearthed the data, fears that the difference could be down to the fact that British women drink and eat too much.
Dr Rachel Thompson, Deputy Head of Science for WCRF, said: “On average, women in the UK are more likely to be overweight and to drink more alcohol than the European average and this is a concern because both these factors increase cancer risk.
“They are not the only reasons for the differing cancer rates, but there is now very strong evidence that women who drink a lot of alcohol are at increased risk of developing the disease and that excess body fat is also an important risk factor.
“This is why one of the big public health challenges we face today is to reduce the amount of alcohol we drink as a nation and to get a grip on the obesity crisis before it spirals out of control.
“Together with other factors such as being physically active and eating a healthy plant-based diet without too much salt or red and processed meat, these changes could make a real difference to the number of women who develop cancer before the age of 75.
“Overall, we estimate about a third of the most common cancers could be prevented by eating healthily, being physically active and maintaining a healthy weight. And for breast cancer, which is the most common type of cancer, about four in 10 cases could be prevented through lifestyle changes.”
Recent estimates suggest that four out of 10 Britons will develop cancer at some point in their lives.
The Office for National Statistics reported last month that 130,043 women were newly diagnosed with the disease in England alone in 2009, a rise of 2.6 per cent on the previous year.
By far the most common type among females is breast cancer, with 40,260 cases in 2009. About a quarter of those who develop such tumours die, despite widespread screening and the development of better drugs in recent decades.
According to World Health Organisation figures, 25 per cent of women across Britain develop cancer by the age of 75.
This is almost 20 per cent more than the average of 21 per cent recorded across Europe.