9 cancer risks Americans don’t recognize — and 3 we know well

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Flickr/Ungry Young Man

There are a number of habits that put us at greater risk of cancer – and almost as many things we can do to decrease that risk.

But knowing what those habits are can be a bit more difficult, especially with new evidence coming in all the time clarifying what we know – and don’t know – about those risks.

To help get a sense of what the public knows, the American Institute for Cancer Research surveyed about 1,000 people about whether or not certain factors had an effect on whether a person develops cancer.

In a new report out Wednesday, the AICR detailed the cancer risks Americans are good at identifying, the ones they’re not so good at knowing, and the ones they tend to get wrong.


GMOs — no conclusive link to cancer

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Genetically modified organisms have been controversial, but there haven’t been any conclusive links between GMOs and cancer, Alice Bender, the head of nutrition programs at the AICR, told Business Insider.

Even though that link has been inclonclusive, 54% of those surveyed believed eating GMOs had a significant impact on whether a person develops cancer.


Beef hormones — no conclusive link to cancer

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Flickr/mindfrieze

The same holds true for hormones in beef, another case where there isn’t enough evidence to link them to an increased cancer risk.

Still, 52% of those that responded to the survey said they believed that hormones in beef have a significant impact on whether a person develops cancer.


Diets high in fat and sugar — no conclusive link to cancer

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Flickr/Luke

The links between diets high in fat or high in sugar are inconclusive so far, according to AICR. When it comes to sugar in particular, diets high in the substance have been linked to obesity, an established cancer risk. But on its own, the evidence isn’t quite there – especially when it comes to claims that sugar can lead to cancer spreading more quickly (sugar feeds all cells, not cancer cells disproportionately, according to the MDAnderson Cancer Center).

Though the link isn’t proven, 44% of those surveyed said they believed a diet high in fat had a significant impact on whether a person develops cancer, and 28% said the same about sugar.


Stress — unclear if there’s a link to cancer

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Stress may be linked to other heath problems, but when it comes to increasing your risk of cancer, the evidence is unclear.

Even so, 56% of those surveyed believed stress had a significant effect on whether a person develops cancer.


Coffee — potentially positive link to preventing cancer

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Clay McLachlan

In June 2016, theWorld Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer(IARC) “found no conclusive evidence for a carcinogenic effect of drinking coffee.” However, the agency did find that hot beverages “probably causes” cancer of the esophagus – atype of cancer that’s not very common.

And in fact, coffee consumption could have a positive impact on things. According to the AICR, coffee consumption could lower your risk for liver and endometrial cancers.

But not as many realized the benefits that coffee has on cancer risk. Only 10% of those that responded to the surveyof those surveyed believed coffee had a significant impact on whether a person develops cancer.


Obesity — well-established links to cancer

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Sophia Charlotte / Flickr

Obesity has been linked with increased risks of certain cancers, including pancreatic, esophageal, colorectal, breast, and thyroid cancer, according to the National Cancer Instititue.

Although it’s a fairly well-established link, only half of those surveyed believed that being overweight or obese had a significant impact on whether a person develops cancer.


Inactivity — clear links to cancer

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The evidence is pretty clear that there’s a link between exercise and your cancer risk – namely, being active can reduce your risk for certain kinds of cancer. And studies have found that the risk of developing breast cancer is lower for women who are active than those who are inactive.

Still, just 39% of thosesurveyed believed that not getting enough exercise had a significant impact on whether a person develops cancer.


Alcohol — growing evidence of a definite link to cancer

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Kristoffer Trolle/flickr

The evidence of alcohol’s association with an increased cancer risk has been growing, and researchers have linked it to an increased risk of head and neck, esophageal, liver, breast, and colorectal cancers.

At the same time though, awareness has been dipping: Only 39% of those surveyed believed drinking alcohol had a significant impact on whether a person develops cancer, a lower percentage than it was when the survey began in 2001.


Red meat or cured meat — linked in recent years to cancer

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Shutterstock/Pavlo_K

In 2015, the World Health Organization published a paper linking cancer to processed and red meats, in particular processed meats and colorectal cancer.

Still, only about 35% of thosesurveyed believed eating a diet high in red meat had a significant impact on whether a person develops cancer, while 40% said the same about processed meats like bacon and hot dogs.


Genetics — well-established links to cancer

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Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

Certain mutations in our DNA can predispose us to an increased risk of cancer (like the BRCA genes, which takes your risk for breast cancer from 7% to an average of 55-65% when you have the BRCA1 or 2 gene mutation.

And 87% of those surveyed believed an inherited predisposition to cancer has a significant effect of whether a person develops the disease.

Still, the AICR noted, cancers related to these mutated genes only make up 5-10% of all cancers – meaning other factors can play a critical role in the majority of other cancer cases.


Tobacco — clear and established links to multiple types of cancer

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Pascal Le Segretain/Getty

There were some factors that were almost universally recognized as linked to increased cancer risks, including tobacco, which is a cause of a number of different kinds of cancer.

And 93% of those surveyed understood that tobacco has a significant effect on whether a person develops cancer.


Sun exposure — well-established links to cancer

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A couple laying on the beach in Key Biscayne, Florida.
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Joe Raedle/Getty

The same goes for sun exposure, which can cause skin damage that can lead to cancer.

Again, the vast majority – 84% – of those surveyed believed sun exposure had a significant impact on whether a person develops cancer.