GENEVA (Reuters) - People in rich and poor countries alike have faulty understanding of what causes cancer and need better education on how to ward off the disease, according to an authoritative report issued on Wednesday.
In all parts of the world there is more willingness to believe that factors out of individual control, like air pollution, rather than life-style choices like heavy eating and drinking of alcohol, are the main dangers, the report said.
The report, based on a survey sponsored by the International Union against Cancer (UICC) of nearly 30,000 people in 29 countries, was released at the start of a four-day World Cancer Congress in Geneva.
UICC President-elect David Hill of Australia said the survey showed there was a global need for “education programmes to encourage and support behavior change.”
In high-income countries like Australia, Britain, Canada, Greece, Spain and the United States, the survey found, refusal to recognize that alcohol consumption increases the cancer risk ran at 42 percent of the population.
By contrast, in middle-income countries like China, Indonesia, Mexico, Romania, Turkey, Ukraine and Uruguay, only 26 percent questioned for the survey thought that drinking did not make contracting cancer more likely.
And in the two low-income countries included in the survey, Kenya and Nigeria, recognition of the alcohol danger ran highest, with only 15 percent of those questioned saying that it was not a cause of the disease.
In fact, said the UICC, the cancer risk rises as alcohol intake increases.
In the high-income countries surveyed, while 9 percent offered no opinion 51 percent agreed that alcohol did increase the cancer risk. But many more, 59 percent, felt that not eating enough fruit and vegetables was a major danger.
In fact, declared the UICC, the scientific evidence for the protective effect of fruit and vegetables is weaker than the evidence that a high alcohol intake is harmful.
Similarly, people in rich countries had exaggerated perceptions of the danger posed by stress -- which 57 percent though increased the cancer risk -- and by air pollution, blamed by 78 percent.
However, said the UICC, stress is not a recognized cause of the disease and air pollution is only a minor contributor to cancer rates compared with alcohol consumption.
“In general, people in all countries are more ready to accept that things outside of their control might cause cancer, like air pollution, than things that are within their own control, such as overweight which is a well-established cancer risk factor,” declared the UICC.
The survey showed that in low and middle-income countries, people were more pessimistic about the chances of treatment curing cancer. In the poorest countries 48 percent felt not much could be done once the disease had taken hold.
In middle-income countries 39 percent had the same view, but in the richest countries pessimists totaled only 17 percent.
The problem with the fatalistic view, said the UICC, was that it could deter people not only from seeking treatment but also from participating in cancer screening programmes which can save many lives.
The survey also assessed beliefs about other lifestyle factors including tobacco use and found most people were well aware of the increased risks of cancer from smoking.
Editing by Stephanie Nebehay