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February 1, 2017 | 6 minute read

Survey: Fewer than half of Americans recognize alcohol, processed meats, other controllable factors affect cancer risk

More Americans cite stress, fatty diets and other unproven factors leading to cancer than recognize obesity and other established cancer risk factors.

WASHINGTON, DC – More Americans attribute stress and other unproven factors leading to cancer than recognize that alcohol, processed meat and other lifestyle habits have clear links to cancer risk, according to a new survey from the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR).

The 2017 AICR Cancer Risk Awareness Survey marks the 8th investigation into what Americans believe causes cancer to develop. Released to coincide with Cancer Prevention Month, the survey offers important insights and trends into what beliefs shape Americans’ health habits. (See Additional Resources for link to full survey.)

Fewer than half of Americans recognize that alcohol, processed meat, high amounts of red meat, low amounts of fruits and vegetables and not enough physical activity all have clear links to cancer development. And only one in two Americans know that obesity is a cause of cancer.

“There is a clear crisis in cancer prevention awareness,” said Alice Bender, MS, RDN, AICR Head of Nutrition Programs. “It’s troubling that people don’t recognize alcohol and processed meats increase cancer risk. This suggests the established factors that do affect cancer risk are getting muddled with headlines where the research is unclear or inconclusive.”

Unproven concerns versus clear research
The new survey reveals that the majority of Americans believe that:
•    Stress, hormones in beef and genetically modified foods lead to cancer, all of which remain unproven.

•    More people now say diets high in fat play a role in cancer than physical activity, with awareness at 44 percent and 39 percent respectively.

Studies are inconclusive on high-fat diets’ link to cancer, whereas strong research shows exercise prevents several cancers.

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.

Independent studies have shown that following AICR’s health recommendations for cancer prevention lowers risk of many cancers and provides other health benefits as well.

Alcohol and Bacon: Strong Evidence, Low Awareness
The survey found that:

•    Fewer than four in ten Americans now realize alcohol affects cancer risk, even as the evidence with alcohol as a cause of cancer has grown. The low awareness of the alcohol-cancer link is especially concerning given that it has dipped over the past 16 years, from 42 percent in 2001 to 39 percent today.

•    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.

Research shows that alcohol is a carcinogen, a cause of at least six cancers, including colorectal, breast, liver and esophageal.

Hot dogs, bacon and other processed meats can cause colorectal and stomach cancers.

Only Half of Americans Know Obesity Links to Cancer
Awareness that being overweight increases cancer risk has climbed slowly but steadily over the past 16 years, from 35 percent in 2001 to 50 percent. Yet that still leaves just one of two Americans realizing that obesity spurs cancer growth.

There is clear evidence that too much body fat increases the risk of 11 cancers, including post-menopausal breast, ovarian, colorectal and esophageal. Aside from not smoking, staying a healthy weight is the single most important step people can take to lower their cancer risk.

Other Key Survey Findings Include:
•    Coffee – Only 1 of 10 Americans know that coffee links to cancer risk. AICR research shows strong evidence that coffee lowers risk of endometrial and liver cancers.

•    Sugar – over a quarter of Americans (28 percent) believe sugar causes cancer to develop. Research shows that sugar is only indirectly linked to cancer, as too much can lead to excess body fat.

•    Approximately 4 of 10 Americans (45 percent) are aware that diets low in vegetables and fruit increase cancer risk.

•    Only about 1 in 3 Americans (35 percent) realize that diets high in red meat increase cancer risk. Awareness has hovered close to this over the past 16 years.

•    Almost all Americans (93 percent) know that tobacco use and excessive exposure to the sun (84 percent) increases cancer risk.

Steps to Reduce Cancer Risk
For simple strategies and steps to lower cancer risk, AICR CanPrevent campaign includes a free 30-day Can Prevent Checklist. Visit aicr.org/can-prevent for this and more information on the research.

“We know a lot of healthy people do get cancer and sometimes it’s easier to worry about genes or uncontrollable things rather than your everyday choices,” says Bender. “But the research says that being physically active, staying a healthy weight, and eating a plant-based diet has the potential to prevent hundreds of thousands of cancer cases each year. It’s a powerful message.”

Swap out chips for a crunchy salad and walk an extra 10 minutes today. You’ll feel better, lower your risk for other diseases and on top of that, boost your energy and fitness.”

Additional Resources:

2017 AICR Cancer Risk Awareness Survey

Obesity and Cancer (infographic)

Awareness survey (infographic)

Notes to Editors

•    Download the full 2017 AICR Cancer Risk Awareness Survey (PDF)

•    Data for the 2017 survey were collected in December 2016. The SSRS Omnibus sample is designed to represent the adult U.S. population (including Hawaii and Alaska). The survey included 1,004 respondents aged 18 and older who were telephoned at random. Margin of error: +/- 3 percent. (61% of respondents were reached by cell phone) The survey was conducted in English and Spanish.

•    For independent studies investigating how AICR recommendations link to various health outcomes, visit: https://www.aicr.org/about/saving-lives-aicrs-impact.html

•    AICR research has found obesity links to increased risk of 11 cancers, including advanced prostate, colorectal esophageal, postmenopausal breast, ovarian endometrial, kidney, stomach, liver, gallbladder and pancreatic cancers. See full listing in infographic.

Sponsors for AICR’s Cancer Prevention Month Awareness campaign include Lead Sponsor Yakima Fresh and Silver Sponsor United Sorghum Checkoff Program.
Partners for the campaign include: American College for Preventative Medicine, American College for Lifestyle Medicine/True Health Initiative, American Society for Nutrition, American Society of Clinical Oncology, Bard Valley Date Growers, Blue Cure Foundation, California Walnuts Board and Commission, Cancer for College, Cancer Journeys Foundation, Cancer Prevention Institute of California (Greater Bay Area Cancer Registry), Careers Through Culinary Arts Program, Colon Cancer Prevention Project, Dole,  Four Seasons Healthcare Consultants, Healthy Dining Finder, International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, Latinas Contra Cancer, Less Cancer, Meatless Monday, Mens Health Network, Mommy and Me Cancer Foundation, National Recreation and Park Association, Northwell Health, James Cancer Center Ohio State University, Oldways, Ovarian Cancer Community Outreach, Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease. Pink Aroostook, ProShred Security, Savor Health, Sean Kimerling Testicular Foundation, Society of Behavioral Medicine, SunButter, Superkids Nutrition, Tell Every Amazing Lady About Ovarian Cancer, The Heimerdinger Foundation, The Obesity Society, University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health, US Alcohol Policy Alliance, Verywell, Virginia Cooperative Extension, and Zero Cancer.
Find sponsors and partners: https://www.aicr.org/can-prevent/partners.html

Follow @aicrtweets for the latest news on cancer risk and prevention.

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