Brits associate genetics over lifestyle for increased cancer risk

2 September 2016

British adults are more aware of the link between cancer and inherited genes than they are aware of the link between cancer and lifestyle choices, a poll for World Cancer Research Fund has found1.

This is despite about a third of common cancers, the equivalent of around 80,000 cancer cases a year, being preventable in the UK through improved physical activity, diet and weight2. This is in comparison to less than one in ten cancers that are linked to inherited genes.

The YouGov poll found that whilst nearly three quarters (74%) of people are aware of the link between cancer and inherited genes, far fewer are aware that physical inactivity (47%), eating a poor diet (59%), drinking alcohol (57%) and being overweight (61%) increase their risk of cancer.

About 62 per cent3 of the English adult population is currently overweight or obese and the number of people developing alcohol-related cancers is increasing. The cancer prevention charity is warning that too many people are still not aware that lifestyle choices can affect their cancer risk. After not smoking, being a healthy weight is the most important thing people can do to reduce their cancer risk – closely followed by not drinking alcohol.

Dr Rachel Thompson, Head of Research Interpretation at World Cancer Research Fund, said:

“Cancer is a devastating disease and we are working for a world free of preventable cancers. Worryingly, our research shows that people are aware of some risk factors, such as inherited genes, but not the modifiable lifestyle factors that can really make a difference. With so many people being diagnosed with cancer, we want people to know the importance of eating a healthy diet, being a healthy weight and being physically active for reducing cancer risk.

“It doesn’t have to be anything too drastic either – cutting down on high-calorie foods and sugary drinks, drinking less alcohol, or even 10 to 15 extra minutes each day of physical activity such as brisk walking could all decrease a person’s cancer risk.

“Healthier lifestyles won't only help prevent cancer but will also help prevent a number of other conditions including diabetes and heart disease.”

When comparing England, Scotland and Wales, the poll showed that Welsh adults are the least aware that eating a poor diet (47% aware), being overweight (49%) and not being physically active (39%) all increase the risk of developing cancer. Regionally, adults in the North East are the least aware of the link between physical inactivity and the risk of cancer (35%) and adults in the East of England are the least aware that drinking alcohol (51%) increases the risk of developing cancer.

These new figures come out at a time when leading scientists in the field of obesity, physical activity and cancer are gathering in London to discuss the latest findings and issues in this area. The Obesity, Physical Activity and Cancer conference is led by World Cancer Research Fund and World Obesity Federation.


For more information contact:

Melanie Purnode, Press and PR Manager, WCRF on 020 343 4273/ 07879 483 022 or

Notes to editors:

About World Cancer Research Fund

For the past 25 years, World Cancer Research Fund has been the UK’s leading charity dedicated to the prevention of cancer through diet, weight and physical activity. By funding and supporting research, developing policy recommendations and providing health information, we have ensured that people can make informed lifestyle choices to reduce their risk of developing a preventable cancer. As we look forward to our next 25 years, our scientific research ensures that we will continue to have the latest and most authoritative information at our fingertips, all underpinned by independent expert advice.

Our analysis of global research shows that a third of the most common cancers are preventable through a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight and regular physical activity.

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1 YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2071 adults. Undertaken between 27 – 31 May 2016. The survey was carried out online. Figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+). Available from World Cancer Research Fund
2 World Cancer Research Fund, Cancer Prevention & Survival, July 2016,
3 Health & Social Care Information Centre, Statistics on Obesity, Physical Activity and Diet, 3 March 2015,