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What Most Americans Get Wrong About Their Cancer Risk

Which are you more worried about when it comes to your cancer risk: Avoiding things like food additives and nuclear power, or eating a poor diet and not exercising enough?

If you're like most Americans, you chose the former. And you'd be wrong. Most people don't recognize the true risks of obesity, an unhealthy diet, and a lack of exercise, according to a new report from the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR).

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Just 52% of Americans know being overweight or obese raises their risk of developing cancer, the survey shows. Even worse: Less than half of those polled were aware that alcohol consumption, too little physical activity, and diet choices—like eating lots of red meat or neglecting fruits and vegetables—have been conclusively linked to some cancers.

Fortunately, the vast majority of Americans correctly identify tobacco and too much sun as cancer triggers. But many also point to factors like "food additives" or "nuclear power" as worrisome cancer contributors—though the evidence linking these things to cancer are either hazy or unlikely to affect most people.

Boiled down, Americans are prone to blame factors that are out of their control while downplaying personal behaviors that significantly raise their cancer risk.

"Changing our lifestyle and habits will be a huge help in preventing certain cancer types," says Cristian Tomasetti, PhD, who researches the major causes of cancer at Johns Hopkins University.

Tomasetti's own research has shown that some of the most common cancers—particularly colorectal, lung, and skin cancers—are linked to lifestyle and environmental factors. But others, such as some bone and small intestine cancers, seem largely out of your control. What causes these cancers? Mutations during cell replication, Tomasetti explains.

While "bad luck" appears to play a role, Tomasetti says changing your lifestyle, receiving proper vaccinations, and getting screened so doctors can spot your cancer early are all important steps to safeguard yourself from the disease.

Experts from the AICR agree, especially when it comes to diet and exercise. "Many Americans underestimate how much they can do to lower their cancer risk," says Alice Bender, MS, RDN, the AICR's associate director of nutrition programs.

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What lifestyle choices protect you from cancer?

  • Maintaining a healthy weightis "the single most important thing" you can do (apart from not smoking) to lower your risk, the AICR report states.
  • Exercise for at least 30 minutes every day, even if you're just walking or gardening. "We estimate 17% of postmenopausal breast and endometrial cancers could be prevented if everyone met AICR's recommendation for physical activity," Bender says.
  • Avoid cured or processed meatslike hot dogs, bacon, ham, and cold cuts.
  • Keep red meat consumption below 18 ounces a week.(Red meat is defined as beef, pork, and lamb.)
  • Eat lots of fruits and vegetables—2½ cups or more every day, advises the American Cancer Society.
  • Limit your alcohol intake.While some research has linked moderate alcohol consumption to lower rates of heart disease, booze is bad news when it comes to your cancer risk.

The big takeaway from this report: Stop worrying about the mysterious or hidden threats you can't control. Instead, focus on your weight, your diet, and your physical activity levels—all of which play a much bigger part when it comes to your cancer risks.

MORE: 10 Cancer Symptoms Most People Ignore

Markham Heid Markham Heid is an experienced health reporter and writer, has contributed to outlets like TIME, Men’s Health, and Everyday Health, and has received reporting awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the Maryland, Delaware, and D.C.





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Date: 05.12.2018, 17:19 / Views: 44352