Many cancer cases linked to unhealthy behavior, study reports

New research shows that many cancer cases are the result of preventable causes rather than genetics.
By Joseph Scalise | Nov 24, 2017
Nearly half of all U.S. cancer cases are the result of preventable causes, a new study published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians reports.

A lot of cancers are caused by genetic factors that are out of a person's control. However, many are also the result of preventable factors that can be controlled through lifestyle changes.

In the study, researchers from the American Cancer Society analyzed national data and calculated how many cancer-related deaths were linked to preventable factors, including smoking, being overweight, drinking too much, eating too much meat, and contracting cancer-related infections.

Of the 1.5 million cancer cases in 2014, 42 percent were connected to one of the above factors. In addition, those causes also led to 45 percent of all cancer deaths that year. Cigarette smoking accounted for 20 percent of cancer cases, while obesity -- which accounted for nearly 8 percent of cases and 6.5 percent of deaths -- was the second-greatest contributor. Alcohol caused 5.6 percent of cases, red meat contributed to 1.3 percent of cases, and a lack of exercise accounted for 2.9 percent.

Cancer deaths have dropped by nearly 25 percent since 1991. However, this study suggests that the decline could be greater if people were to address some of the risky behaviors that contribute to the disease.

Even so, researchers believe the study is encouraging because it shows there are easy ways to stop many cancers.

"If [people] avoid some of these risk factors, they could substantially reduce their risk of many types of cancer," said lead author Farhad Islami, a researcher at the American Cancer Society, according to TIME.

The team hopes the new findings will encourage officials to support more policies that reduce modifiable risk factors, such as creating smoke-free areas, constructing walkable communities, and encouraging physical activity. It could also help doctors give better advice and allow them to help their patients lead healthier lifestyles.

"[The study] is an incredibly important piece of research because it is relevant to understanding cancer risk factors," said Elizabeth A. Platz, deputy chair of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who was not involved in the study, according to ABC News. "I am very excited about the paper. It furthers the point that primary prevention is the future. It would be better for everyone to prevent cancer upfront."

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