Survey: Most Americans Are Unaware Of Leading Cancer Risk Factors Such As Alcohol Consumption

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Less than a third of Americans understand that obesity and alcohol consumption are risk factors for cancer, according to a national Harris Poll survey commissioned by ASCO.

Furthermore, many Americans are not taking cancer preventive actions, and others hold misconceptions about cancer risk

“This research helps us understand what our fellow Americans know and believe about cancer, and therefore, where we need to focus as a nation in our efforts to conquer cancer,” Bruce Johnson, MD, FASCO, ASCO President, said in a press release. “It is clear there are many important gaps we need to address — from educating the public about cancer prevention, to confronting high treatment costs, to investing in cancer research that is vital to improving patients’ outcomes in the future.”

The Harris Poll conducted the National Cancer Opinion Survey from July 10-18, 2017, and received responses from 4,016 U.S. adults aged 18 years and older.

4% of respondents had cancer or a history of cancer, and 32% had an immediate family member with cancer.

Most Americans identified tobacco use (78%) and sun exposure (66%) as cancer risk factors. However, only 31% identified obesity as a risk factor — despite that obesity is the second leading preventable cause of cancer — and only 30% recognized alcohol consumption as a risk factor.

14% of Americans incorrectly identified cell phones as a cancer risk factor, and 8% believed caffeine to be a risk factor.

The results show that most Americans are not taking steps to prevent cancer. Only 48% reported using sunblock or limiting sun exposure, 41% maintained a healthy weight, and 38% limited alcohol consumption to reduce cancer risk.

“Our lifestyles have a big impact on our risk for developing many common cancers,” Richard Schilsky, MD, FACP, FASCO, chief medical officer of ASCO, said in the release. “That so few Americans are aware that maintaining a healthy weight is associated with lower risk for many cancers should serve as a wake-up call. Unfortunately, obesity is a problem that cannot be solved overnight and will require broad societal engagement to address.”

The survey also found that 91% of Americans support robust federal funding toward the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of cancer. 73% supported federal funding to help the development of cancer treatments and cures, even if it led to tax increases.

Many Americans also think the U.S. government should take action to address drug costs: 92% said Medicare should be allowed to directly negotiate prescription drug prices with manufacturers, and 86% said there should be government regulation to lower the price of cancer drugs.