Most Americans Are Unaware of Key Cancer Risk Factors

January 10, 2018 by Elisa Becze BA, ELS, Editor

According to results from the first National Cancer Opinion Survey of 4,016 U.S. adults (, the majority of Americans are unaware of several major risk factors for cancer, particularly obesity, which is the second-largest preventable cause of cancer in the United States, after smoking.

A majority of respondents correctly identified tobacco use (78%) and sun exposure (66%) as risk factors for cancer, but only 31% identified obesity and 30% recognized alcohol consumption as contributing to cancer risk. Additionally, despite understanding certain risk factors, many Americans are not taking preventive measures to modify behaviors that increase their risk for cancer: only 48% use sunblock or limit sun exposure, 41% maintain a healthy weight, and 38% limit alcohol consumption.

As the primary point of contact for patients with cancer, oncology nurses can play a key role in educating patients about risk factors for the development of secondary cancers and ways that patients can modify or reduce their risk. Oncology nurses, advanced practice nurses, and nurse navigators can also ensure that survivorship care plans contain the relevant information about steps survivors can take to reduce their risk for recurrence or future cancers.

Copyright © 2018 by the Oncology Nursing Society. User has permission to print one copy for personal or unit-based educational use. Contact for quantity reprints or permission to adapt, excerpt, post online, or reuse ONS Voice content for any other purpose.