Cigarettes, alcohol, and the Western diet – this trifecta of risk factors has often been blamed for many a health event. And it would now appear that these three avoidable lifestyle choices are among those that are to blame for close to half of all cancer deaths recorded in the United States, according to data released this week by the American Cancer Society.
Based on statistics on cancer incidence and death in the U.S., 42 percent of all cancer cases and 45 percent of cancer deaths on record were associated with cigarette smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke, alcohol consumption, dietary choices, and a high body weight. As noted by ABC News, these are all preventable risk factors and lifestyle choices that can otherwise be avoided, thus making it possible in theory to reduce the risk of cancer through “simple lifestyle tweaks.”
The American Cancer Society paper revealed that cigarette smoking was the number one risk factor behind cancer cases and deaths in the U.S., with the habit connected to 19 percent of cases and 28.8 percent of deaths. Overweight and obesity was a distant second, causing 7.8 percent of cases and 6.5 percent of deaths. Coming in third place was alcohol consumption, which was blamed for 5.6 percent of cases and four percent of deaths.
In terms of specific preventable cancers, the researchers found that lung cancer had the most associated cases and deaths. Men were more likely than women to develop cancers related to smoking, UV radiation, hepatitis C, and HIV infection, and consumption of red and processed meat, while women were more likely to get cancers associated with overweight and obesity, alcohol intake, lack of physical activity, and human papilloma virus (HPV) infection.
According to Newsweek, all data used by the ACS in their study was gathered from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Cancer Institute’s official statistics.
Study lead author Dr. Farhad Islami, strategic director of Cancer Surveillance Research at the American Cancer Society, said in a statement that the above figures might have been too modest, in terms of the percentage of cancers that can be avoided by means of certain behavioral and preventative tools and strategies.
A further statement from the ACS quoted by USA Today outlined some of the specific tools that may be needed for medical professionals and patients in hopes of preventing cancer cases and deaths.
“Increasing access to preventive health care and awareness about preventive measures should be part of any comprehensive strategy for broad and equitable implementation of known interventions to accelerate progress against cancer.”
In addition, the ACS’ website offers some tips that could help people reduce their risks of getting cancer. These include completely giving up or avoiding tobacco consumption, getting enough exercise, eating a healthy diet, and taking the necessary precautions when exposed to sunlight. The organization also advises people to get cancer screenings, as these could help doctors and patients catch the disease, if present, while still early.
Although the ACS study provides another grim warning about how everyday lifestyle choices could contribute to cancer, ABC News wrote that cancer death rates have gone down in the U.S. by about 25 percent in recent decades. But with the above risk factors in mind, experts believe there may be 1.6 million new cases of the disease diagnosed this year, with about 600,000 people expected to die from cancer. This is the reason why medical professionals believe that more research is needed about what causes cancer and what people can do to prevent it.
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