Cancer – debunking the myths

Being overweight is the biggest cancer risk factor after smoking.

By Madeline O’Connor

IT HAS been revealed that around half of people in the UK don’t recognise the importance of diet in protecting against cancer, demonstrating that myths about the disease are still widely believed.

The YouGov poll commissioned by World Cancer Research Fund for World Cancer Day this week found that 49 per cent do not know that diet affects people’s risk of getting cancer.

Other results show that a high proportion of people are unaware of the links between cancer and body weight (59 per cent), processed meat (62 per cent) and physical activity (66 per cent).

A third (34 per cent) incorrectly believes that the chances of getting cancer are mainly due to family history of the disease, even though only five to ten per cent of cancers are linked to inherited genes.

Eat a healthy diet and cut down on alcohol and processed meat

Amanda McLean, World Cancer Research Fund’s General Manager said: “On World Cancer Day 2014 it’s very alarming to see that such a large number of people don’t know that there’s a lot they can do to significantly reduce their risk of getting cancer. We would like all sectors of society – including the government, manufacturers, retailers and charities – work together to raise cancer prevention awareness.

“In the UK, about a third of the most common cancers could be prevented through being a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet and being regularly physically active. These results show that many people still seem to mistakenly accept their chances of getting cancer as a throw of the dice. But by making lifestyle changes today, we can help prevent cancer tomorrow.”

World Cancer Research Fund, alongside the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), is working to dispel the myth that cancer is unavoidable. The following steps will help to reduce the risk of developing cancer:

•             Eat a healthy diet with lots of vegetables, fruit, pulses and wholegrains. Limit alcohol and red meat and try to cut out processed meat.

•             Keep your weight at a healthy level (a BMI of between 18.5 and 25). Being overweight is the biggest cancer risk factor after smoking.

•             Be physically active for at least 30 minutes every day. This can be divided over the day and can be any activity that increases your breathing and heart rate – even housework counts.

World Cancer Day this year is focusing on targeting four of the biggest myths about the disease. Under the tagline ‘Debunk the myths’, it hopes to reduce stigma and dispel the many myths that still exist, leading to positive change at individual, community and policy level and across the continuum of cancer care.

A spokesperson for World Cancer Day told the Irish World: “This initiative is vitally important because, put simply, the global cancer epidemic is huge and is set to rise. Some 1.5 million lives which would be lost to cancer could be saved per year if decisive measures are taken to achieve the World Health Organization’s (WHO) ‘25 by 25’ target; to reduce premature deaths due to non-communicable diseases (NCDs) by 25% by 2025.”

Currently, 7.6 million people die from cancer worldwide every year, out of which, 4 million people die prematurely (aged 30 to 69 years). Unless urgent action is taken to raise awareness about the disease and to develop practical strategies to address cancer, by 2025, this is projected to increase to an alarming 6 million premature cancer deaths per year.

World Cancer Day is an important date in the advocacy calendar; highly engaged organisations and individuals are encouraged to call on governments to ensure that cancer interventions are adequately addressed in the next phase of world health agendas.

It is an initiative of the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), a leading international non-governmental organisation that unites the cancer community to reduce the global cancer burden.

Factsheets, posters and postcards are available to download and disseminate from the website, where there is further information on how to get involved.

For more, see



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