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Global Network

Estimating Preventability

AICR's policy report and the continuous updates include estimates of how much cancer could be prevented through diet, activity and weight management.

For the most common US cancers, about one third of the cases are preventable through a healthy diet, being physically active and maintaining a healthy weight. This translates to an estmated 340,000 preventable cases of cancer this year.

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

Cancer TypeNew CasesPercentage Prevented*Number of Cases Prevented
Breast, female231,84033%76,510
Mouth, Pharyngeal & Laryngeal42,00063%26,460
Prostate (advanced)28,70411%3,160

*Estimated and rounded, based on: AICR/WRCF, Policy and Action for Cancer Prevention 2009; Continuous Update Project reports; American Cancer Society, Cancer Facts & Figures 2015.

Preventability estimates are calculated using information on:
  • Cancer risk associated with lifestyle factor
  • Prevalence of low, moderate and high levels/consumption of lifestyle factor
  • Incidence of different cancers

You can read the full methodology used to calculate the estimates in Appendix A of the Policy Report.

Briefly: Estimates were made for lifestyle factors judged to be convincing or probable modifiers of cancer risk in Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective and its continuous updates.

Highest versus lowest risk estimates were used for cancer risk. One research study (ideally large and recent) was chosen from those collected as part of the 2007 report and its continuous updates, where the size of effect was representative of all studies. Information on prevalence of lifestyle factors was obtained from national surveys. These two pieces of information were used to estimate preventability for each lifestyle factor.


Evidence for the policy report came partly from two systematic literature reviews that investigated two specific questions: What factors shape the patterns of behavior that affect cancer risk (namely diet, physical activity and body fatness)? And, around the world, what effects have specific interventions had on those patterns of behavior?

The preventability figures are estimates; they are not precise values. They are likely underestimates, as only those cancers judged to have convincing or probable links to lifestyle factors are included.

For the 2009 Policy Report, these estimates were based on GLOBOCAN 2002 data. Those original estimates have been updated with the most recent global incidence data from GLOBOCAN* on cancer rates.

* Ferlay J, Shin HR, Bray F, Forman D, Mathers C and Parkin DM. GLOBOCAN 2008, Cancer Incidence and Mortality Worldwide: IARC CancerBase No. 10 [Internet]. Lyon, France: International Agency for Research on Cancer; 2010. Available from:

Sir Michael Marmot on the Policy Report

Published on March 26, 2015

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