February is Cancer Prevention Month. The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is leading a national campaign to help Americans separate the myths from facts about cancer risk. Throughout the month, AICR will debunk cancer misperceptions and empower Americans with accurate, evidence-based advice on cancer prevention.
AICR estimates that around 40 percent of all cancer cases can be prevented. Eating a healthy diet, being more active each day and maintaining a healthy weight are, after not smoking, the most important ways to reduce cancer risk. The majority of Americans are unaware of these science-based strategies, leading to confusion about lifestyle and cancer risk.
AICR's Cancer Risk Awareness survey found that 89 percent of people believe that "cancer is often genetic - it is inherited risk and they can do nothing about it." Experts say, not true. Even if someone has a genetic mutation known to significantly increase cancer risk -- such as the BRCA1 gene that is known to cause breast cancer -- it is not certain that the person will eventually get cancer.
"The myth that there's nothing you can do to reduce your risk is worrisome," said AICR's Senior Director of Nutrition Programs, Alice Bender. "The fact is strong evidence shows there are daily actions we can take to improve our odds of not getting cancer."
Many of the common misperceptions are perpetuated by sensational headlines from an early animal study or results from a small human trial that are never replicated in larger studies.
The belief that soy increases breast cancer risk continues to be one of the most common and persistent myths. Studies have shown that eating whole soy foods may actually reduce risk of cancer for some women.
The headlines around red wine make it tempting to believe that alcohol can be healthy. But the fact is that all alcohol, regardless of the source, is a carcinogen. AICR's latest report showed that drinking alcohol of any type links to increased risk for breast and several other cancers.
Another idea that is not supported by science but commonly believed is that eating organic fruits and vegetables offers extra protection against cancer. "Eating a diet rich in plant foods can help reduce the risk of cancer - whether organically or conventionally produced," Bender says. "Research so far has not shown that organically grown foods are more cancer-protective than those grown conventionally."
A recent court case in California perpetuated the myth that drinking coffee can cause cancer. Scientists say coffee does not need to carry a cancer warning. In fact, research shows that coffee reduces risk for liver and endometrial cancers. "
Through this campaign, we want people to know the best evidence-based steps they can take to lower their cancer risk," says Bender. "Downloading our free 30-Day Cancer Prevention checklist is a great way to start."
In February, millions of Americans will see AICR's Cancer Prevention announcement on television. Our public service announcement will educate viewers about the links between lifestyle choices and cancer risk.
"AICR is grateful to all the organizations and partners joining us for the Cancer Prevention Month campaign," says Deirdre McGinley-Gieser, Senior Vice President, Programs at AICR.