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08/17/2009 - Articles

People not aware of weight as cancer risk factor

By: Susan Aldridge, medical journalist, PhD

Cancer is a disease where many different risk factors come into play.  Many people are now aware of the risks of smoking and, maybe, of alcohol and diet when it comes to cancer prevention. 

Further, people do realize that overweight and obesity make a heart attack more likely and is detrimental to health in general.  But they don’t – despite mounting evidence – know that excess weight and cancer are also associated. In fact, overweight is the second most significant cancer risk factor, after smoking.  If people did keep to a healthy weight, then 13,000 cases of cancer a year could be prevented, in the UK alone, says Cancer Research UK, the leading charity. They have carried out a survey of 4,000 people to check their awareness of cancer risk factors. They were asked ‘What are the main changes that people can make to their lifestyle to reduce the risk of cancer?’

Only 3% mentioned keeping to a healthy body weight as something that people can actually do to reduce their risk of cancer.  And 7% of those in the survey had a very fatalistic attitude – they could not name a single thing that could be done to prevent cancer.  However, two thirds of those surveyed did say that giving up smoking reduces cancer risk.  And 59% mentioned healthy diet as protective, while 29% thought exercise was important too. On other risk factors, 22% quoted alcohol and 11% said that sun protection was important in avoiding cancer.  Participants did not have to make an ‘either/or’ choice – they could name as many factors as they thought important.  Around one third mentioned three or more factors. Research has shown that cancer is, to a great extent, a preventable disease.  Of course, behavioral change – like losing weight – is tough and the benefits only become apparent, sometimes, after many years (cancer, typically, takes many years to develop).  But motivated change begins with awareness of and information about cancer risk factors. This new study provides a useful snapshot of where people are in knowing about cancer prevention, in the UK at least, and is something that health policy makers can, perhaps, take into account. 



Cancer Research UK August 5 2009

Created on: 08/17/2009
Reviewed on: 08/17/2009

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