Preventing ill health and early death is essential if we are to meet the challenges of public health today. The report by Cancer Research UK (CRUK) out today strengthens the evidence that cancer is preventable, as it is linked to smoking, keeping a healthy weight, cutting back on alcohol and eating a healthy diet. It therefore provides a crucial tool to help us advocate for action on Scotland’s Dietary Goals, measures to address alcohol consumption, our ambition for a tobacco free Scotland and the need to support physical activity. 

We must also consider cancer prevention in the context of what we know about health inequalities. The research here tells us that maintaining a healthy lifestyle is easier for some than others; and; it is not all down to individual choice. Our own studies tell us that non-preventable cancers have no social pattern, whilst preventable cancers for the most part have a social pattern – people who face the greatest economic and social challenges run higher risks of developing cancer, amongst other preventable diseases. For many, however well-intentioned, it is not as simple as choosing the healthy option. What determines our health, goes far beyond how we live. For example, smoking campaigns focussed on will power had some success, but none quite like the smoking ban. Likewise, we know that price regulation is more effective at tackling harmful drinking than delivering health improvement messages in isolation. The problem, and so the solution, lies in the many external influences which bear most heavily on people who face the greatest challenges, so determining the choices we make and control we have over our lives.

NHS Health Scotland welcomes the report. It gives us hope that we can prevent ill health and early death from cancer, in Scotland. With a twin track approach; supporting individuals to maintain a healthy lifestyle, whilst at the same time helping to create the best possible environment through the development of fairer, healthier policy and practice; we can ensure that all of Scotland’s people have longer, healthier lives.