WHO claim imminent tidal wave of cancer due to unhealthy lifestyles

The respected international organisation predicts the number of cancer cases will reach 24 million each year, by 2035, but half could be prevented if restrictions on alcohol and sugar were considered.

The WHO said there was now a "real need" to focus on cancer prevention by tackling obesity, smoking and drinking.

At the moment, 14million people a year are diagnosed with cancer, but predictions show this to increase to 19m by 2025, 22m by 2030 and 24m by 2035 – most of the extra cases appearing in the developing world.

The WHO's World Cancer Report 2014 said the major sources of preventable cancer included:

  • Smoking
  • Infections
  • Alcohol
  • Obesity and inactivity
  • Radiation, both from the sun and medical scans
  • Air pollution and other environmental factors
  • Delayed parenthood, having fewer children and not breastfeeding

For most countries, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. However, cervical cancer dominates in large parts of Africa.

Dr Chris Wild, the director of the WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer, told the BBC: "We're not going to be able to address this problem by simply improving treatment. The global cancer burden is increasing and quite markedly, due predominately to the ageing of the populations and population growth.

"If we look at the cost of treatment of cancers, it is spiralling out of control, even for the high-income countries. Prevention is absolutely critical and it's been somewhat neglected."

The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a major cause. It is thought wider use of the HPV and other vaccines could prevent hundreds of thousands of cancers. More awareness about the danger of sunbathing could also have a marked effect of the number of cancer cases worldwide.

He added: "In relation to alcohol, for example, we're all aware of the acute effects, whether it's car accidents or assaults, but there's a burden of disease that's not talked about because it's simply not recognised, specifically involving cancer.

"The extent to which we modify the availability of alcohol, the labelling of alcohol, the promotion of alcohol and the price of alcohol - those things should be on the agenda."

He said there was a similar argument with regards to sugar fuelling obesity, which in turn affected cancer risk.