One in two people living in the UK will develop cancer at some point in their lives, according to the latest forecast Cancer Research UK.

The new estimate replaces the previous one-in-three lifetime risk (calculated using a different method), as people live longer and benefit from improved healthcare.

The findings, published in the British Journal of Cancer, underscore the need “to bolster public health and NHS cancer services” to help cope with rising demand for better diagnostics, treatments and earlier diagnosis, the charity said, but also stressed prevention is key to reducing the impact of the disease.

“If people live long enough then most will get cancer at some point. But there’s a lot we can do to make it less likely – like giving up smoking, being more active, drinking less alcohol and maintaining a healthy weight,” noted study author Professor Peter Sasieni, who is based at Queen Mary University of London. 

More than 40% of cancers diagnosed in the UK every year could be prevented by lifestyle changes, added Harpal Kumar, CR UK’s chief executive, but he also called for better planning and innovative design of services to help deal with the growing cancer burden. 

“If the NHS doesn’t act and invest now, we will face a crisis in the future – with outcomes from cancer going backwards,” he warned.