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February 2, 2017 | 3 minute read

Half of Americans Don’t Know One of the Biggest Cancer Risks

If you’re like the majority of Americans, it’s more likely you think that stress and high-fat foods cause cancer than a handful of lifestyle habits — like consuming alcohol and processed meat. And only half of Americans know one of the single biggest factors that ups cancer risk: obesity. Those are among the findings of our latest Cancer Risk Awareness Survey, the 8th time AICR has asked Americans what they think links to cancer.

With all the headlines on cancer prevention, it’s understandable that people are confused about what really lowers cancer risk. When it comes to lifestyle, the research is clear on several cancer-preventive habits that most Americans don’t know about. On other factors, the research is inconclusive or shows there is no link. Here, we help clear up the confusion.

What Americans Know

•    Almost all Americans (93 percent) know that tobacco use causes cancer.

•    Most know that excessive exposure to the sun (84 percent) increases cancer risk.

What Americans Think They Know

•    Over half of Americans say that genetically modified foods lead to cancer. There is currently not enough evidence to conclude that GMOs affect cancer risk.

•    About four in ten – 44 percent – said that high-fat diets cause cancer. Studies are inconclusive on high-fat diets’ link to cancer.

What Americans Need to Know

•    Only 1 of 2 americans know that overweight and obesity can fuel cancer development. Excess body fat is a cause of 11 cancers, and aside from not smoking – staying a healthy weight is the single largest step you can take to lower your cancer risk.

•    Not even four in ten Americans – 39 percent – know that being inactive increases cancer risk. AICR research shows that 30 minutes of moderate activity a day lowers risk for colorectal, breast, and endometrial cancers. Being active also plays a role with weight management, a major way to lower cancer risk.

•    Fewer than four in ten Americans say alcohol affects cancer risk, even as the evidence with alcohol as a cause of cancer has grown. Research shows that alcohol is a carcinogen, a cause of at least six cancers, including colorectal, breast, liver and esophageal.

•    For processed (cured) meats, awareness of their link to cancer has increased only slightly over the 16 years, from 32 percent to 40 percent, as the research has grown stronger. Hot dogs, bacon and other processed meats can cause colorectal and stomach cancers.

•    Only about 1 in 3 Americans (35 percent) realize that diets high in red meat increase cancer risk. AICR recommends eating no more than 18 ounces of cooked red meat per week. Awareness has hovered close to this over the past 16 years.

Steps to Reduce Cancer Risk

AICR estimates that close to one of three common cancers in the US can be prevented through diet, weight management, and physical activity. That estimate grows to half when factors such as not smoking and avoiding sun damage are added. 


Other Key Survey Findings Include:

We released the survey at the start of Cancer Prevention Month, a time when AICR and other health organizations are highlighting the everyday habits that reduce cancer risk.

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