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The next biggest problem is a lack of fruit and veg in men's diets (6.1 per cent) and obesity in women (6.9 per cent).
Just under five per cent of cancer cases in men are linked to occupational hazards such as exposure to chemicals or asbestos, while infection was responsible for 3.7 per cent of cases in women.
Alcohol came lower down the list than researchers had expected, being linked to 4.6 per cent of cases in men and 3.3 per cent in women.
In fact exposure to sun and sunbeds was linked to more female cancer cases at 3.6 per cent.
Lead researcher Prof Max Parkin said: "Many people believe cancer is down to fate or 'in the genes' and that it is the luck of the draw whether they get it.
"Looking at all the evidence, it's clear that around 40 per cent of all cancers are caused by things we mostly have the power to change.
"We didn't expect to find that eating fruit and vegetables would prove to be so important in protecting men against cancer. And among women we didn't expect being overweight to be more of a risk factor than alcohol."
What do you think? How can people be persuaded to change their lifestyles? Comment below...