New Survey: Low Awareness of Key Cancer Risk Factors

This article appears in the February 4, 2015 issue of AICR’s CRU.

Awareness SurveyMore Americans blame cancer on things like food additives, stress and beef hormones than on diet and other everyday steps people can take to lower risk, according to an AICR survey released today, on World Cancer Day.

The 2015 AICR Cancer Risk Awareness Survey shows that few Americans realize that factors like alcohol, obesity, lack of physical activity and poor diets have been shown to increase cancer risk. Instead, Americans continue to worry about factors over which they have either little or no control (genes, for example) or for which the link to cancer remains unclear (food additives).

The AICR Cancer Risk Awareness Survey The survey has been run periodically since 2001 and asks respondents to select those factors they believe have “a significant effect on whether or not the average person develops cancer.”

Fewer Than Half of Americans Know the Real Risks

The survey gives experts a sense of whether Americans are focusing on the factors that make a proven difference in cancer risk, and today, that news is decidedly mixed:

  • Fewer than half of Americans (42 percent) are now aware that diets low in vegetables and fruit increase cancer risk. This number has trended downward since 2009, when it stood at 52 percent. Consistent evidence links diets high in vegetables, fruits and other plant foods to reduced risk for many cancers including those of the colon, stomach and mouth.
  • Only 43 percent of Americans now know that alcohol increases cancer risk, an increase of five percentage points since the 2013 survey. Alcohol is a cause of many cancers, including those of the breast, esophagus and mouth.
  • And only about 1 in 3 Americans (35 percent) realize that diets high in red meat have been convincingly linked to colon cancer. This figure has not changed since the survey was last conducted in 2013.

    There are encouraging signs that at least two evidence-based messages about cancer risk are being heard.
  • Awareness that carrying excess body fat is a cancer risk factor is rising. Today, just over half of Americans (52 percent) realize that obesity and overweight impact their cancer risk, a rise of 4 percentage points,
  • Awareness that being inactive increases cancer risk jumped 6 percentage points, from 36 percent in 2013 to 42 percent today.

So What are Americans Worried About?

The factors that Americans are focusing on represent a mix of legitimate risks (94 percent correctly identified tobacco use; 84 percent cited excessive exposure to the sun) and risks for which research has yet to provide definitive answers (food additives: 62 percent; genetically modified foods: 56 percent; stress: 55 percent; hormones in beef: 54 percent).

"When it comes to cancer, there are no guarantees," she said. "But the science on lowering cancer risk has never been clearer. Thousands of studies have been analyzed by AICR in our Continuous Update Project reports – the largest ongoing analysis of cancer prevention research in the world. These studies show that a healthy diet, regular activity and healthy weight could cut cancer incidence by one-third.

AICR estimates that about 340,000 US cancer cases could be prevented through changes in diet, weight, and physical activity.

You can find the complete 2015 AICR Cancer Risk Awareness Survey (PDF) on prevent50.org.


Source: American Institute for Cancer Research. AICR 2015 Cancer Risk Awareness Survey Report. January 2015.

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