Do You Know What Causes Cancer?


Yesterday, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) released results from the first National Cancer Opinion Survey. This large, nationally representative survey was conducted online among 4,016 American adults. ASCO commissioned the National Cancer Opinion Survey to study Americans’ attitudes toward cancer.

This wide-ranging study identified a number of key findings about how people in the United States view cancer, including the impact of the cost of care and support of cancer research. Yet, the most surprising finding is that a majority of Americans are unaware of many risk factors for the development of cancer.

What are the greatest causes of cancer?

A lot of American adults know about the dangers that tobacco use (78%) and sun exposure (66%) pose in the development of cancer.

However, just 1 out of every 3 Americans knows that obesity can also put you at a higher risk of cancer. Tobacco use and obesity are #1 and #2 when it comes to the causes of cancer that can be changed by lifestyle choices. Being obese increases the risk of developing a number of cancers, including colon, breast, prostate, and uterine cancers.

In addition, only 30% of people know that drinking alcohol can increase the risk of cancer, including cancer in the mouth, liver, and breast.

How do Americans lower their cancer risk? 

There is good news. Survey results show that 89% of Americans are doing something to lower their cancer risk, mainly by not smoking and by eating more fruits and vegetables. People could further lower their risk by making the following lifestyle changes:

  • Using sunblock (48% of Americans do)

  • Avoiding exposure to the sun when you’re not wearing sunblock (48%)

  • Getting regular exercise (48%)

  • Keeping a healthy weight (41%)

  • Limiting their alcohol consumption (38%)

People who have known someone with cancer are more likely to take further action to lower their cancer risk, according to the findings.

Read more about the National Cancer Opinion Survey on ASCO’s website.

Limited Awareness of Key Cancer Risk Factors: Only 31 percent of Americans recognize obesity as a risk factor for cancer – even though it is the second leading preventable cause of the disease. Few Americans are aware of other lifestyle factors that increase the risk of cancer. 30 percent identify alcohol as a cancer risk factor. 25 percent identify lack of exercise as a cancer risk factor. Most Americans (78 percent) correctly identify tobacco use and sun exposure (66 percent) as major cancer risk factors. Modest Steps to Reduce Cancer Risk: Fewer than half of Americans say they are doing the following things to reduce their cancer risk: 48 percent are using sunblock, 48 percent are limiting their exposure to the sun without sunblock, 48 percent are exercising regularly, 41 percent are maintaining a healthy weight, and 38 percent are limiting alcohol consumption.

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