10 Facts About What Really Causes Cancer

Yes, alcohol is on the list

Do you know what causes cancer – and what doesn’t? If you aren’t sure, you are not alone. Fewer than half of all Americans are aware of some of the most controllable causes of cancer including alcohol, processed and red meats, not getting enough fruits and vegetables, and a lack of regular physical activity. This is according to survey findings from the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR). This is the 8th Cancer Risk Awareness Survey conducted by AICR.

The knowledge gap is a problem. Risk factors you can control, like body weight, diet, and exercise, are linked to a large number of cancers. The World Cancer Research Fund estimates that about 20% of all cancers diagnosed in the US are related to body fatness, physical inactivity, excess alcohol consumption, and/or poor nutrition, and thus could also be prevented.

“This survey illustrates that we’re missing a huge opportunity in cancer prevention," says Colleen Doyle, MS, RD, managing director of nutrition and physical activity at the American Cancer Society.  "Lifestyle factors like body weight, healthy eating, and physical activity are second only to smoking as ways to reduce cancer risk.  But we can’t expect people to change their behavior if they aren’t even aware of the connection." Doyle says that "we not only need to raise the visibility of this connection, but also we need to work to change our environments – where we live, learn, work, shop, and play – to make the healthy choice the easy choice.”

The AICR survey asked Americans about 29 factors, covering a wide range of topics. This slideshow reviews the facts about some of the cancer risk factors Americans were most unaware of in the AICR survey – and a couple they got right.