What Americans Don’t Know About Cancer Risks May Surprise You


Cancer isn’t an easy topic to bring up in general conversation, but it is one we are willing to tackle here at Healthy Kansas City magazine, providing all of the latest news, advances, and warnings. In fact, Americans today have access to more information about cancer than ever before. That’s why what most Americans don’t know about cancer risks might shock you. 

To be fair, there is a glut of misinformation out there. Some of it has been repeated so many times that it is impossible for most citizens to extract the fact from fiction. Some information sounds so plausible it is easy to believe, and persists without real scientific evidence. So, it is easy to see why Americans are so confused about cancer.  

What’s Your Biggest Risk for Cancer?

Ask every American and the majority will get it wrong. A recent survey conducted by the American Society of Clinical Oncology called the National Cancer Opinion Survey, found that while very concerned about cancer, there is a huge and troubling disconnect between what people think about cancer, and what is actually true.

This Link is Firmly Established, and Yet…

One of the most shocking and troubling statistics to come of this survey is the percentage of people that do not know the risks of alcohol use, with an astonishing 70% not recognizing it as a risk factor. This is especially concerning as alcohol use — whether it is light, moderate, or heavy — is responsible for increasing the risk many leading types of cancers including breast, colon, esophagus, and head and neck cancers.

Only 31% Knew This

Extra body weight is clearly and firmly established as a high risk factor for many cancers including breast, colon and rectal, endometrial, esophageal, kidney, and pancreatic cancers. Yet most Americans are unaware that obesity is a major risk factor, and one that will soon overtake smoking as the largest preventable cause of cancer in the United States.

What We Don’t Know Can Definitely Hurt Us

According to the survey, only 25% knew that lack of physical activity is a cancer risk factor. There is substantial evidence that higher levels of physical activity are linked to lowered risk of several cancers including colon, breast, and endometrial, among many others.

Of those surveyed, 34% did not know that sun exposure is a risk factor. Of the 66% that did know, only 48% of them reported using sunblock to reduce their likelihood of getting skin cancer.

Only 20% of those answering the survey knew that viruses such as the human papillomavirus (HPV) can cause cancer or is responsible for most cases of cervical cancer as well as many vaginal, vulvar, anal, penile, throat and tongue cancers.

Nearly 75% of Americans realize family history and inherited factors can raise your risk of cancer. While this is good, inherited factors are only thought to result in 5-10% of the incidents of cancer.

We Do Think About Cancer – A Lot

If we are not thinking about risks, what are we thinking about? About a third of Americans have a child, parent, brother or sister diagnosed with cancer. We’re thinking about a gut-wrenching loss. More than 60% of us are concerned about getting cancer in our lifetime. We’re feeling resigned. About half of those surveyed who said they have or had cancer worried about being able to afford treatment. Many do things such as skipping treatment to cut cost.

Cancer treatment and the search for cancer cures get a lot of attention, but lowering our risks in the first place doesn’t seem to garner the same kind of frenzied attention. Maybe it’s the immediate gratification society in which we live. Even when we do know, we often do not choose better. Nine out of ten Americans believe that smoking is a risk factor for cancer. Smoking undeniably and unequivocally can kill you. Every year, 443,000 Americans die from smoking-related illness — more than obesity (at least for now) substance abuse, infectious disease, firearms, and traffic accidents, according to the CDC. Yet, over 40 million Americans still smoke.

We indulge now and fix it later. The problem is, we can’t always fix cancer.

For more information, you can find the survey here https://www.asco.org/research-progress/reports-studies/national-cancer-opinion-survey


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