Cancer Risks Beyond Obesity: What We Learned from 28,000 Headlines

10th July 2019

What would other products look like if they had cancer warning signs on their primary packaging? We taker a look at what everyday items could cause cancer and you will be surprised!

If you’ve read the recent headlines, you’ll be aware of Cancer Research’s recent attempt to highlight the cancer risk that comes with obesity. Their advert that compared obesity to smoking had a mixed response on social media- with commenters both supporting and disagreeing with their message and methods.

This got us thinking about how the media interprets cancer and risk factors associated with the disease. To find out what the biggest cancer scares are, we scraped 28,000 online tabloid health headlines to uncover what is being presented as the biggest issues.  

The numbers at a glance:

  • 27,853- Total Articles Examined
  • 567,037- Words in the Headlines
  • 3,334- Mentions of Cancer
    • 525- Mentions of Breast Cancer
    • 182- Mentions of Prostate Cancer
    • 109- Mentions of Bowel Cancer
    • 82- Mentions of Lung Cancer
    • 37- Mentions of Brain Cancer
    • 6- Mentions of Oesophagus Cancer
  • 567- Mentions of Diabetes
  • 459- Mentions of Obesity
  • 372- Mentions of Smoking
  • 329- Mentions of Alcohol
  • 398- Mentions of Heart Disease
  • 267- Mentions of HIV
  • 193- Mentions of Zika Virus
  • 124- Mentions of Acne
  • 87- Mentions of AIDs

According to the British Heart Foundation, 7.4 million people in the UK are suffering from some sort of heart/circulatory disease, and related diseases are responsible for 170,000 deaths a year. According to Cancer Research, 163,000 people in the UK died from cancer in 2016.

So it’s interesting to note that in our study cancer got x10 the coverage of heart disease, despite heart disease being reportedly the largest killer.

When tabloids do report on causes of cancer they tend to sensationalise niche issues. According to, the most common causes of cancer include smoking, diet, physical health, sun damage, and viruses. Despite this, when comparing 3,334 articles that mentioned cancer we only found:

  • 29 Mentions of ‘Smoking’
  • 79 Mentions of ‘Sun’
  • 72 Mentions of ‘Diet’
  • 35 Mentions of ‘Obesity’
  • 28 Mentions of ‘Exercise’
  • 27 Mentions of ‘Virus’

The following are all real headlines, and we have attempted to visualise how these products would look if they were as deadly as some media outlets claim:

Baby food in cancer alert

Frequent fliers raise cancer risk

Affluent women in the South are more likely to die from breast cancer
Is your lipstick giving you cancer?

Superfoods can make cancer MORE likely, says pioneer of DNA study

Safety alert over best-selling crayons

Can the cat give you cancer? Parasite in their bellies linked with brain tumours

Cancer link to peanut butter

Additives used in bacon, ham and chicken ‘could make cancers grow’
As more countries ban iPads and mobile phones from the classroom, could wifi be giving our children cancer?

Disclaimer: These images are designed as concept examples to highlight a health industry issue. They are not intended to represent the work of Lifestyle Packaging.

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