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The Big C: Demystifying the Diagnosis no one wants to receive

View profile for Florence Fisher
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Anyone who has watched recent Stand Up to Cancer specials on Channel 4 will have seen the staggering statistic revealed by Cancer Research UK: one in two of us will be diagnosed with cancer in our lifetime.

In 2022, roughly 367,000 people were diagnosed with cancer in the UK, over double the 115,000 people diagnosed just 50 years prior in 1972. In fact, the numbers have jumped considerably every decade, as can be seen in the table below.
















It is important to understand who is at risk and why, and ensure we reduce our risks and detect it early.

Why the increase?

So why are we over twice as likely to be diagnosed today, compared to 50 years ago? Several factors contribute to this.

We are a part of an aging population, our life expectancy has increased, and our medical care has improved. Cancer therefore becomes more prevalent as we age, since it is primarily a disease of aging.

There is improved detection thanks to advances in medical technology and screening programs, leading to earlier and more accurate cancer detection. The screening for breast, cervical, and colorectal cancers have become more widespread, resulting in more diagnoses. We also have access to advances in diagnostic techniques, such as imaging technologies and genetic testing, enabling healthcare professionals to detect cancers that may have been missed in the past or were previously undetectable.

Lifestyle factors, such as increased tobacco use, unhealthy diets, sedentary lifestyles, and exposure to carcinogens in the environment including air pollution, radiation, and industrial chemicals, also all contribute to an increased risk of developing cancer.

Finally, we have a greater awareness and education of cancer symptoms and risk factors, prompting more of us to seek medical attention.

Who’s at risk?

Certain groups are considered to be at higher risk of developing cancer due to various factors. It is important to recognise whether you are part of these risk groups.

Cancer risk generally increases with age, with most cancer cases in the UK being diagnosed in people aged 50 and over.

Smoking is one of the leading causes of cancer in the UK. Smokers and those exposed to second-hand smoke are at increased risk of developing lung cancer, as well as other cancers, such as mouth, throat, oesophageal, and bladder cancer.

Being overweight or obese, particularly if accompanied by an unhealthy diet in processed foods, red meat, and low in fruits and vegetables, increases the risk of several types of cancer, including bowel, breast, and pancreatic cancer. Excessive alcohol consumption is also linked to an increased risk of several types of cancer, including mouth, throat, liver, and breast cancer.

Overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or artificial sources like tanning beds increases the risk of skin cancer, including melanoma.

A family history of certain cancers, as well as inherited genetic mutations, can increase an individual’s risk of developing cancer. For example, women with a family history of breast or ovarian cancer may have an increased risk due to inherited mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes.

Some ethnic groups may have a higher risk of certain types of cancer. For example, individuals of African or Caribbean descent have a higher incidence of prostate cancer, and individuals of South Asian descent have a higher incidence of stomach cancer.

What do we need to do about it?

It is important we each look at our respective risk factors and look at how we can each lower our risks. However, despite our best efforts, it will not always be avoidable, and early detection is therefore key. Ensure you attend screening programmes which are offered through your doctors, and book an appointment to see your doctor if something doesn’t feel right.

It is important to remember that early diagnosis is key. Whilst this is our own responsibility, there are scenarios where individuals have sought medical advice and diagnosis has still been delayed. Delayed diagnosis can have devastating effects and cause harm to patients and have long lasting effects on family members.

Get in Touch

If you or your family believe they have been affected by the delay in diagnosis and treatment of cancer, please visit our Clinical Negligence page or contact Lauren Goode at and David Lydon at

Alternatively, feel free to call on 0845 55 55 321, and our friendly team will happily assist you.