Obesity to overtake smoking as cause for cancer in women

A report from Cancer Research UK predicts that obesity will overtake smoking as a cause for cancer in women by 2043. Currently only about 4% of cancers in women are linked to obesity, with 12% having been linked to smoking. But with obesity numbers rising and numbers of women who are smoking steadily declining, carrying around more weight will soon make this gap disappear.

The general population tends to be aware of the type of cancer that can be linked to smoking, including lung, bladder, bowel, pancreatic and stomach cancers, but might not be aware of the list of cancers that have been linked to overweight or obesity, such as bowel, gall bladder, kidney, liver, breast, ovarian and thyroid cancers.

The report also notes that while more men are overweight or obese and more men are smokers, obesity seems to be a stronger driver of cancer in women. This is why in men obesity is not thought to overtake smoking as a cancer cause anytime soon.

If a child is overweight or obese during childhood, it has a five times higher chance of having the same weight problems in adulthood, increasing the risk of cancer during its lifetime. Professor Lunda Bauld, a Cancer Research UK prevention expert, therefore urges that the government should learn from the campaign against smoking, which is seen as a successful public health intervention, to raise awareness of the problem. 


The oldest animal in the world

Researchers discovered a 558-million-year-old oval shaped fossil, that has put an end to a decade long qualm. The specimen in question, Dickinsonia, was found in north-west Russia, belongs to the Ediacaran Biota and, most importantly, still contained cholesterol.

Dickinsonia fossil

The Ediacaran Biota are thought to have been the first multi-cellular organisms on Earth and while other specimens have been found, scientists could not agree on the position those organisms should take on the tree of life. Some scientists classified them as lichens, fungi, protozoa, evolutionary dead-ends and even as something between a plant and an animal. The presence of cholesterol puts this 75-year-old feud to rest, as cholesterol is a clear hallmark of animal life, therefore placing the Dickinsonia firmly into the animal kingdom. Ediacaran Biota appeared on Earth about 600 million years ago, but largely died out during the Cambrian explosion, which marks the huge diversification of animal life about 541 million years ago. This validates the Dickinsonia fossil as the oldest animal ever found and shifts the perception on when animals came into existence further into the past, solving one of the biggest mysteries of palaeontology.

The cactus – not as hardy as we thought

 The last plant you thought you needed to worry about is probably the cactus. It is generally seen as a very hardy plant, surviving scorching temperatures, draughts and being forgotten on the window sill for several weeks. However, the prickly cactus is in trouble. Illegal smuggling and collectors looking for rare specimen are one of the biggest problems, leading to cacti being dug up and carried away from their natural habitats. After drugs and guns cacti are actually the most commonly smuggled goods leaving Mexico. Research teams from Kew Botanical Gardens now go as far as to not give away the habitat and exact location of newly identified cacti, for fear of smugglers coming to uproot the newly found plants.


The Spanish cactus has another problem altogether, the cochineal beetle. This little insect has brought devastation to the plant in Southern Spain and other areas of the world experience similar problems. New cactus plants can be grown from offshoots of the parent plant and the localised loss of the species, such as in Andalucía in southern Spain, does not spell the end of the species. Yet. Experts warn that this might be part of a worrying trend, as many of the about 2000 different Cactaceae are extremely vulnerable to changing environments as they only have a narrow window of conditions in which they can thrive. More than 30% of cacti are already categorized as critically endangered or vulnerable, compared to the 25% of mammals that fall into the same group.

While it is unlikely that we see a shortage of cacti anytime soon, the fact that this hardy species is in trouble at all, highlight what impact global warming and other human activity can have on even the toughest organisms.

Written by Charlott Repschlager

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