Cancer Awareness Survey 1999
Most Americans Still Unaware of Diet-Cancer Link
As in each previous year, Americans confused cancer screening (designed to find existing cancer) with cancer prevention. Asked what a woman can do to reduce her chances of developing cancer, nearly 30 percent responded with doctors' exams or self-exams and 24 percent cited mammograms. While these forms of examination are helpful, neither prevents cancer. Only 1 in 6 cited any form of diet change, 1 in 10 mentioned exercise, and only 1 in 50 reported that avoiding estrogen hormones or alcohol might help, despite numerous well-publicized studies showing the importance of each of these factors.
As with breast cancer, many respondents (28 percent) put their faith in their doctors' exams. About one in five people were aware that diet played a role in prostate cancer. Despite the low prevalence of prostate cancer among longtime vegetarians, only 2 percent of those surveyed were aware of the link between a meat-based diet and prostate cancer. We had expected that many people would mention PSA (prostate-specific antigen) testing, even though it is a diagnostic test and not a true preventive measure, but only 4 percent mentioned it.
Breakfast cereal advertising may be the reason that one in four of those surveyed said a high-fiber diet might reduce the risk of colon cancer. Despite colon cancer being three times more common among meat-eaters, compared to vegetarians, only 2 percent were aware that meat was at issue in the disease.
For each form of the disease, those with less education noted the importance of diet less frequently. Only 26 percent indicated that their doctor had ever suggested a diet change to reduce cancer risk.