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Breakthrough Cancer Research provides cancer prevention tips
A blow to the breast, stress, the use of mobile phones and aerosols were all incorrectly listed as risk factors for developing cancer in a recent national survey, while genetics were greatly overestimated. The public were also shockingly unaware of proven cancer health threats such as obesity and the position of fat in the body, age, sunlight, alcohol and lifestyle. Incredibly almost one in 5 believes that nothing can be done by them personally to prevent cancer if they have a family history of the disease.
The survey was carried out at University College Cork (UCC) in conjunction with Breakthrough Cancer Research and the Irish Cancer Society. Commenting on the results, Dr Aoife Ryan, lecturer in nutritional science at UCC said, “Our research survey was designed to assess public awareness of cancer risks and the results were astonishing. A large portion of the Irish population is misinformed and unaware of the real risk factors for cancer”.
Dr Derek Power, a medical oncologist at Mercy and Cork University Hospitals said, “While most surveyed were aware of classic risk factors such as smoking and poor diet, there are a lot of misconceptions. We hope that by sharing these common misunderstandings and informing the public about proven cancer risks and preventable measures, we can help people to make lifestyle choices that will reduce their risk of developing the disease. This will ultimately help to decrease the growing statistics of those diagnosed with cancer in Ireland”.
The research was carried out following predictions by the World Health Organisation that Ireland could experience a 72% rise in the numbers of cancer cases by 2030 (currently cancer causes 7,000 deaths nationally - 7.1 million deaths annually - and it is estimated that 1 in 3 men and 1 in 4 women will develop cancer over their lifetime).
However, according to the organisation, approximately 40% of all cancer deaths are preventable with appropriate food, nutrition, physical activity and body fat but only 20% of those surveyed were aware of this.
Breakdown of survey results on public perception of cancer risk factors
The results of the survey of 748 respondents found that 80% of the Irish public are concerned about developing cancer, while 19% believe that if cancer is in their family there is nothing they can do to reduce personal risk, which is incorrect. In addition one in 5 is not aware that cancer risk increases with age.
The public are very misinformed about the role of genetics where a quarter of those surveyed believed that more than 50% of cancers are inherited and over half believed that 10-20% of cancers are inherited, whereas in fact research has shown that only 3-5% of cancers are truly inherited.
The top 5 perceived risk factors are: smoking 87%, diet 76%, genetics 47%, alcohol 42%, and obesity 33%. Other factors listed by the public were: environment (30%), sun exposure (32%), stress (19%), age (6%), and viruses (1%).
Only 33% are aware that obesity is a risk factor for cancer, while 33% do not think the location of fat on the body is important for cancer prevention (apple shape increases risk) despite the fact that scientific evidence states that this is the most important risk. 86% correctly identified that the correct waist circumference is 32inches for women and 80% correctly identified 37 inches for men. 39% believe the only purpose of fat in the body is to insulate and protect the organs, 72% are unaware that excess fat can cause inflammation, and 57% are unaware that fat cells can secrete substances that cause cancer. 90% agree that remaining physically active throughout life can protect against cancer and 86% agree that maintenance of a healthy body weight throughout life may be one of the most important ways to protect against cancer.
The public incorrectly believe that the following can cause cancer: 29% believe wearing a tight bra might while 48% feel a ‘blow to the breast’ could. 92% believe stress could cause cancer in contrast to scientific evidence that shows this is not a risk factor. 63% think mobile phones are dangerous, while 70% believe cleaning agents and aerosol use are risky, which are all unproven. 70% believed constipation increases risk, which may be confused as a symptom of bowel cancer, and 11% believe ‘luck’ is important in avoiding cancer.
When asked how to reduce risk, 27% believe ‘detox’ diets could help and 64% would believe organic food is protective. Research has not shown either of these methods to be effective. 28% are unaware that frozen vegetables and fruit are as good as the fresh variety, and 41% are unaware of the link between red meat and cancer. 86% know that processed meat is a risk factor, and 46% are aware that salt also poses a risk.
The Irish public believe the following foods increase cancer risk: cheese (27%), soy (9%), milk chocolate (28%), red wine (19%), and eggs (15%). Also exposing food to radiation (77%), and genetically modifying foods (81%) are perceived as threats to health and cancer risk despite a lack of scientific evidence for either of these. 86% believe in cancer fighting foods and are aware that super foods like berries, green tea, garlic, brassica vegetables and physical activity of 30 minutes a day can reduce cancer risk. 54% believe that taking vitamin and mineral supplements daily are protective against cancer and 20% believe that nutritional needs cannot be met by diet alone and supplements are absolutely necessary, despite recommendations from world cancer organisations not to take supplements to protect against cancer. Incredibly 27% are not aware that breastfeeding protects mothers against breast cancer.
Only 42% of the public are aware that alcohol is a risk factor for cancer and 63% are misinformed that some alcoholic drinks are more dangerous than others with only 37% conscious that all types of alcohol have same effect. 39% are misinformed that red wine is protective and it appears this message has been mixed up with the benefits for heart disease.
Those involved in the survey have stressed that cancer statistics in Ireland can be greatly reduced if people make simple changes to their behaviours and attitudes toward the disease.
Proven cancer risk factors include exposure to:
• Physical carcinogens, such as ultraviolet (UV) and ionizing radiation;
• Chemical carcinogens, such as benzo(a)pyrene, formaldehyde and aflatoxins (food contaminants), and fibres such as asbestos (??? English)
• Biological carcinogens, such as infections by viruses, bacteria and parasites.
• Tobacco use
• Being overweight, obesity and physical inactivity
• Harmful alcohol use
• Sexually transmitted human papilloma virus (HPV) infection
• Air pollution (outdoor and indoor)
• Occupational carcinogens including industrial dyes, rubber and asbestos
There are 11 key recommendations for cancer prevention
• Do not smoke
• Be as lean as possible without becoming underweight.
• Be physically active for at least 30 minutes every day.
• Limit consumption of energy dense foods and avoid sugary drinks.
• Eat mostly foods of plant origin.
• Limit Consumption of red meats and avoid processed meats.
• Limit Alcohol. If consumed at all, limit to 2 drinks for men & 1 for women per day.
• Limit consumption of salty foods and foods processed with salt.
• Don’t use vitamin and mineral supplements to protect against cancer
• Wear sun protection and do not use sunbeds
• Young women should get vaccinated against HPV
See www.breakthroughcancerresearch.ie for further information.
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