AICR Survey Finds Gaps in Americans' Knowledge of Major Cancer Risk Factors

Fewer than half of Americans recognize that drinking alcohol, diets high in red meat, diets low in vegetables, fruits and fiber and insufficient physical activity all have a clear link to cancer development, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research’s (AICR) ninth Cancer Risk Awareness Survey conducted in 2019. Awareness of other established cancer risk factors like obesity and processed meat is still low but has risen above 50% for the first time since AICR began the survey in 2001.

“There is an enormous opportunity to prevent future cancer cases,” said Dr. Nigel Brockton, Vice President of Research at AICR. “Many people believe that pesticides or air pollution are the major factors in cancer risk, but modifiable lifestyle factors play a bigger role. Diet, activity, body weight, and alcohol are the largest drivers of cancer risk and are under our control.”

The AICR survey finds that only 53% of Americans are aware that having overweight and obesity increases their cancer risk. The latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveal that over 70% of Americans have overweight or obesity. Overweight and obesity increase the risk of 12 types of cancer; six of these cancers have seen a rapid rise in diagnoses and are increasing with each successive younger age group. Aside from not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight is the most important way to protect against cancer.  

Awareness is also low for other common and vital cancer risk factors, like alcohol. Alcohol increases the risk of six types of cancer: mouth, pharynx, and larynx, esophageal, breast, liver, stomach, and colorectal. Fewer than half of Americans, however, know that drinking alcohol is a cancer risk factor. 

The 2019 Cancer Risk Awareness Survey offers important insights, and for Cancer Prevention Month this February, AICR has launched a new website and redesigned Cancer Health Check to urge Americans to check in with their health. 

Cancer Health Check combines AICR’s latest research and 10 Cancer Prevention Recommendations to create an online tool where people assess their lifestyle choices and learn how to live healthier lives. The tool prompts people to answer simple questions about their lifestyle habits. It gives instant feedback about how well they meet the evidence-based recommendations or how they might make changes to follow the recommendations more closely. 

To view the full results of the 2019 Cancer Risk Awareness Survey, click here. To take the Cancer Health Check, visit aicr.org/cancer-health-check/.