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As Cancer Increases, New Estimates on Preventability

World Cancer Day buttonFor the first time, cancer is now the leading cause of death worldwide, causing 8.2 million deaths per year, according to a report released yesterday to mark World Cancer Day.

In the United States, cancer remains the second leading cause of death, ranking slightly below heart disease. New AICR estimates released this week show that approximately one third of the most common of these cancers are preventable.

AICR estimates that 374,000 US cancer cases per year could be prevented by making changes to a healthier diet, activity habits and weight. That translates to about one of every three US cancer cases. in the United States can be prevented each year by eating a healthy diet, undertaking regular physical activity, being at a healthy weight and limiting alcohol consumption. Add not smoking or using tobacco to the list of healthy lifestyle habits and that figure increases even more.

The updates incorporate the most recent estimates of new cancer cases that will occur. That figure has grown over the years as incidence has increased.

Estimated Cases of US Cancers Preventable per Year
by Diet, Activity, and Weight Management

Cancer TypeNew CasesPercentage Prevented*Number of Cases Prevented
Breast, female 235,030 38% 89,311
Prostate 233,000 11% 25,630
Gallbladder 10,650 21% 2,237
Endometrial 52,630 59% 31,052
Esophageal 18,170 69% 12,537
Colorectal 136,830 50% 68,415
Pancreatic 46,420 19% 8,820
Mouth, Pharyngeal & Laryngeal 38,960 63% 24,545
Kidney 63,920 24% 15,341
Liver 33,190 15% 4,979
Stomach 22,220 47% 10,443
Lung 224,210 36% 80,716
TOTAL PREVENTABLE     374,025

*Estimated, based on: AICR/WRCF, Policy and Action for Cancer Prevention 2009; Continuous Update Project reports; Rebecca Siegel et al. “Cancer statistics, 2014.” CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians Volume 64, January/February 2014.

AICR's updated preventability estimates draw upon the findings in AICR/WCRF’s Policy and Action for Cancer Prevention report along with the Continuous Update Project (CUP) reports. The report estimates the proportion of different cancers that could be prevented through diet, physical activity and weight management for four different areas of the world: the United Kingdom, China, and Brazil, along with the United States.

The most recent evidence for colorectal cancer, for example, finds that half of US colon cancer cases could be prevented through diet, activity and being lean. That is over 68,000 cases of colorectal cancers a year that would never occur. For endometrial cancer, the latest research suggests an estimated 59 percent of cases – 31,000 cases – could be prevented by staying a healthy weight and being active (drinking coffee also reduces risk).

Yesterday's World Cancer Day was devoted to dispelling cancer myths and improving general understanding about the disease. A new AICR survey suggests that myths of cancer prevention remain common (see below). For example, fewer than half of Americans are aware that body weight affects people’s risk of getting cancer.

The World Cancer Report, compiled by The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), highlights the devastating toll of the disease.

  • Global cancer incidence over the past four years has increased by 11% to over 14 million new cases per year
  • Currently around four million people per year die prematurely (aged 30 to 69 years) from cancer across the world.
  • A larger proportion of cancers in developing nations are caused by infections, yet as these countries adopt western lifestyles that include greater alcohol use, obesity and a lack of physical activity – the countries are facing a double burden.

“We already know what we need to do to prevent over 374,000 cancers in the U.S. every year,” said AICR’s Associate Director for Nutrition Programs Alice Bender, MS RD. “That number is real and reachable, and we can get started simply by taking the same healthy everyday steps that we know also prevent heart disease, diabetes and other chronic diseases.”

For more information on how the AICR preventability estimates were calculated, visit our Policy and Preventability page.


Source: United States Department of Agriculture. "Changes in Eating Patterns and Diet Quality Among Working-Age Adults, 2005-2010." January 2014.

Published on February 5, 2014

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