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February 4, 2014 | 5 minute read

Experts Fight “Myth-Information” With New Estimates of Preventable Cancers

Cancer Prevention Month Begins With World Cancer Day

WASHINGTON, DC — Fewer than half of Americans (41%) are aware that body weight affects people’s risk of getting cancer, and just over one in six (17%) mistakenly believe that they can do nothing to lower their risk, according to a new survey commissioned by the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) to mark World Cancer Day (February 4), a global event devoted to dispelling cancer myths and improving general knowledge about the disease.

On February 4th, AICR and the World Cancer Research Fund International are uniting with other organizations to raise awareness that approximately one-third of cases of the most common cancers in the U.S. could be prevented just by making changes to our diet, weight and physical activity.

Because World Cancer Day kicks off Cancer Prevention Month in the US, AICR is also releasing a Cancer Prevention Month infographic that contains new estimates of how many cases of specific cancers like breast, colorectal, prostate and stomach could be prevented through diet, weight and physical activity.

Hundreds of Thousands of Cancers Don’t Have to Happen

“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.”

AICR’s research shows that Americans can cut their cancer risk by:

  1. Keeping your weight at a healthy level. Apart from not smoking, avoiding obesity is the most important thing you can do to lower your cancer risk.
  2. Eating a healthy diet. Specifically, one that highlights a variety of plant foods (vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans) limits alcohol and red meat, cuts out processed meat.
  3. Being physically active for 30 minutes a day. Being active helps the body regulate hormones that might otherwise spur the cancer process – and helps prevent obesity, which is itself a cause of many cancers.

“The research shows that we can do something about cancer risk, but first we have to make those healthy choices. That’s the message that the public needs to hear: DO SOMETHING,” said Bender.

Throughout the month of February, AICR will take to social media to combat misinformation about cancer and share the evidence-based, empowering message that many cancers don’t have to happen with its “Cancer Prevention: DO SOMETHING” campaign.

Survey Reveals Alarming Lack of Awareness

The online survey commissioned by AICR reveals that too many Americans still cling to the myth that they are powerless before cancer. The survey asked respondents to agree or disagree with several statements about cancer risk, including:

  • People can’t do anything to change their risk of getting cancer.
    • Astonishingly, over one in six Americans agreed with this cancer myth (17%) and another 24% could not decide whether to agree or disagree.
  • Diet affects people’s risk of getting cancer.
    • Just over half of Americans surveyed (58%) knew that they can indeed cut cancer risk with a healthy diet, but far too many either disagreed (11%) or could not make up their minds (31%).
  • Body weight affects people’s risk of getting cancer.
    • Awareness of this link is still alarmingly low: less that half (41%) of those surveyed knew that body weight has an impact on cancer risk. One in 5 (20%) disagreed, while a whopping 38% could not make up their mind.
  • How active someone is affects their risk of getting cancer.
    • Of the three steps to lower cancer risk, awareness of physical activity’s protective power was lowest, with only 39% of Americans understanding its role. Almost 1 in 4 Americans (23%) disagreed, while another 39% neither agreed nor disagreed.

A Worrisome Information Gap

“As dismaying as it is to see so many Americans agreeing with a cancer myth, or disagreeing with a fact we know to be true, another worrisome finding is the huge number of people who did not feel they knew enough to agree or disagree,” said Bender.

“That tells us there are millions of Americans who don’t yet have the information they need. Who are ready to hear the empowering message that they can take steps to protect themselves – they just haven’t heard it yet.”

The survey on U.S. understanding of cancer risk comes as the Union for Internatinal Cancer Control (UICC) announces that cancer as a single entity is now the world’s biggest cause of death, with 8.2 million deaths a year. The number of global cancer cases diagnosed every year has risen by 11 per cent since 2008 to more than 14 million new cases a year.

Cary Adams, Chief Executive Officer at UICC, said: “Governments around the world, including the U.S., must recognize the growing cancer burden in their country and act on it now. On World Cancer Day, we demand that health leaders commit to reducing the millions of predicted, needless and premature deaths caused by cancer by focusing efforts and funds on proven preventive and early detection measures.”

The YouGov online survey of 1,233 US adults was conducted between December 13-16, 2013. Results were weighted and representative of all US adults over 18. Raw data is available by contacting communications@aicr.org.

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