Study shows that 4 in 10 cancers in the US are due to lifestyle choices

Factors that are known to raise the risk of cancer included cigarette smoking, and exposure to secondhand smoke.
Factors that are known to raise the risk of cancer included cigarette smoking, and exposure to secondhand smoke.PHOTO: AFP

MIAMI (AFP) - About four in 10 cancers in the US are due to lifestyle choices - such as smoking and eating poorly - and other risks that might be avoidable, researchers said on Tuesday.

The goal of the study was to calculate "the contribution of several modifiable risk factors to cancer occurrence", said the report in the journal CA: A Cancer Journal For Clinicians.

Factors that are known to raise the risk of cancer included cigarette smoking, exposure to secondhand smoke, excess body weight, drinking alcohol, eating red or processed meat and low fruit and vegetable consumption, said the report.

Others include not getting enough dietary fiber or calcium, lack of exercise, exposure to ultraviolet light and the sexually transmitted infection human papillomavirus (HPV), which can cause cervical and genital cancers as well as tumours in the head and neck region.

Researchers analysed the prevalence of these known risk factors and the extent to which they increase cancer risk to estimate the proportion of cancers they cause.

Then, scientists applied these proportions to current cancer data to estimate the number of associated cases and deaths for 26 cancer types.

Of the total 1.57 million cancer cases in the United States in 2014, researchers determined that 42 per cent were attributable to these modifiable risk factors.

They found that a similar number of deaths - 45 per cent - could be linked to these factors.

The top risk was cigarette smoking, which accounted for 19 per cent of cancer cases and nearly 29 per cent of deaths.

Next in line was excess body weight, with 7.8 per cent of cases and 6.5 per cent of deaths.

Alcohol came in third, responsible for 5.6 per cent of cases and four per cent of cancer deaths.

UV radiation was estimated to cause 4.7 per cent of cancers and 1.5 per cent of deaths.

Physical inactivity was responsible for nearly three per cent of cases and 2.2 per cent of deaths.

Not eating enough fruits or vegetables was linked to almost 2 per cent of cancer cases and nearly 3 per cent of deaths.

HPV infection accounted for almost 2 per cent of cases and 1 per cent of deaths.

Two types of cancer were found to have the most number of cases and deaths due to these risk factors - lung cancer and colon cancer.

Better education about cancer prevention and access to preventive health care should be key parts of the battle against cancer in America, the study concluded.