Cancer Risk Knowledge May Miss the Mark

Cancer risk factor knowledge on proven risks like obesity and physical inactivity low among some Americans

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) The beliefs many Americans hold about their cancer risk might be doing them a disservice.

New research from the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) found that Americans' cancer concerns might be misdirected. This research found that many adults were not aware of proven cancer risk factors. Many, however, were aware of risk factors that had not been completely proven.

"Americans generally remain more prone to blame cancer on factors they do not control than they are to recognize the steps they can take to help protect themselves," wrote the authors of the AICR report.

This new data came from the 2015 AICR Cancer Risk Awareness Survey, which surveyed more than 1,100 adults across the US in late 2014.

There was some good news — 94 percent of the survey respondents knew that tobacco use increased cancer risk. Eighty-four percent knew that excessive sun exposure was tied to cancer.

However, results were mixed when it came to other proven risk factors.

Only 42 percent of survey participants were aware that diets low in fruits and vegetables could increase cancer risk. According to the AICR, this is a well-known and consistently proven cancer risk factor.

Forty-three percent knew that alcohol was tied to cancer risk, and 35 percent knew that diets high in red meat were tied to cancer, the AICR researchers found.

Also, 52 percent of participants said they knew that obesity and excess weight could contribute to cancer risk. Forty-two percent knew that physical inactivity was tied to cancer risk.

"When it comes to lowering cancer risk, there are no 'magic bullets' — but regular physical activity comes pretty close," the AICR authors wrote. "Being active protects against cancer both directly (by helping to regulate the body's hormone levels) and indirectly (by helping to prevent the buildup of excess body fat, itself a cause of nine cancers)."

The rate of people who knew about inactivity's link to cancer did increase by 6 percent from 2013 to 2014, however.

This survey also found that many Americans were more focused on cancer risk factors that had yet to be proven.

For instance, 74 percent of participants said they believed there was a link between pesticide residue on produce and cancer. A total of 62 percent reported a link between additives in food and cancer, and 56 percent reported a link between genetically modified foods and cancer.

Also, 55 percent of respondents believed cancer risk was tied to stress, and 54 percent believed cancer risk was tied to hormones in beef. No definitive links have been proven between cancer risk and any of these factors, according to the AICR.

"When it comes to cancer, there are no guarantees," said Alice Bender, MS, RDN, AICR associate director of nutrition programs, in a press release. "But the science on lowering cancer risk has never been clearer."

Bender said that, based on the AICR's analysis of cancer prevention research, an estimated third of cancer cases could be prevented through healthy diet, regular physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight.

The AICR released this report online Feb. 4. The AICR authors disclosed no funding sources or conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
February 7, 2015
Last Updated:
February 10, 2015