HEADLINES Published February4, 2015 By Bernadette Strong

Americans Can’t Figure Out Cancer Risks

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Eating a healthy diet with lots of vegetables and fruits can reduce the risk of some cancers.
(Photo : Phil Walter, Getty Images )

When it comes to the factors that can raise or lower a person's risk of cancer, Americans are confused. They fear things like food additives and stress, but they don't know about steps they can take to lower their risk.

A survey conducted by the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) found that Americans worry about factors that they have little control over, such as their genes, or for which the link to cancer remains unclear, such as food additives. They do not worry enough about cancer risk factors such as obesity, alcohol use, lack of physical activity, and poor diet that have been shown to increase their risk of cancer.

The survey found that only 42 % of Americans are aware that diets low in vegetables and fruit can increase cancer risk. This percentage is down from 2009, when it stood at 52%. Consistent evidence links diets high in vegetables, fruits and other plant foods to a reduced risk for many cancers including those of the colon, stomach and mouth. Only 43% of Americans know that alcohol increases cancer risk, including cancers of the breast, esophagus and mouth. And only 35% of Americans know that diets high in red meat have been convincingly linked to colon cancer.

But they are concerned about factors for which no definitive answers are available. These include 74% of Americans who cited pesticide residue on produce, 62% who cited food additives, 56% who cited genetically modified foods, 55% who cited stress, and 54% who cited hormones in beef.

On the plus side, however, 94% of Americans correctly identified tobacco use and 84% cited excessive exposure to the sun as significant causes of cancer. They are also increasingly aware that being obese or overweight and being inactive raise the risk of certain cancers.

The American Institute for Cancer Research is an organization located in Washington, DC, that focuses exclusively on the link between diet and cancer. The Cancer Risk Awareness Survey was conducted in December 2014 and involved 1,018 Americans who were telephoned at random.

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