People ‘in the dark’ about preventable cancers

Members of the public unaware that some cancers can be avoided

Many people are discouraged from leading healthy lifestyles because they are unsure if doing so can help them to prevent some forms of cancer, it was claimed today.

A survey of more than 800 people carried out by the British Dental Health Foundation in September suggests that more than half (six in ten) of respondents are unaware that smoking-related cancers such as lung and mouth cancer are largely preventable.

Although cancer is not wholly preventable, it is widely thought that more than 30% of cancers can be prevented by modifying or avoiding key risk factor such as smoking and drinking.

The survey found that skin cancer was perceived to be the most preventable of the ten cancers surveyed with around half of respondents (51%). Lung and mouth cancer were rated the second and third largely preventable cancers, although only 41% and 32% of respondents, identified them as avoidable, despite their clear association with the risks of smoking.

Overall, around one in five people were unsure about whether the various cancers were preventable, with the greatest uncertainty concerning brain, testicular, prostate, bowel and liver cancers. Brain cancer was considered to the least preventable (54%), followed by breast, prostate and testicular cancer (all 45%).

Dr Nigel Carter, chief executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, said that it is “clear” that public perception indicates a confused picture and understanding around cancer. 

“Opportunities exist for all cancer charities and health organisations to strengthen their campaign messages on risks and prevention,” he said.

Dr Carter said that mouth cancer is one cancer where the vast majority of the 6,000 cases diagnosed each year could be avoided.

“Low survival rates, without early diagnosis, and facial disfigurement could all be avoided with better lifestyle choices,” he said.

The charity carried out the survey to raise awareness of mouth cancer, its risk factors and symptoms in the run up to Mouth Cancer Action Month, supported by Denplan, next month.

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