Study Shows Almost Half of Cancers are Preventable

Study Shows Almost Half of Cancers are Preventable

More than 6,700 cancer cases in Alberta can be avoided per year

CALGARY – About 45 per cent of cancer cases in Alberta are linked to a handful of modifiable factors, according to new statistics from Alberta Health Services (AHS).

While it’s no surprise that tobacco remains the leading cause, a significant number of cancer cases in Alberta are related to factors such as not being active enough, unhealthy eating, excess body weight, and alcohol.

“……. we know we don’t have to wait for new scientific breakthroughs to start reducing cancer rates in Alberta,” says Dr. Verna Yiu, Interim AHS President and CEO.

“Our new data shows that we could avoid about 6,700 new cancer cases every year if we work together on a short list of factors we can change.”

These new findings are from the Population Attributable Risk study completed by scientists working with the Alberta Cancer Prevention Legacy Fund (ACPLF) at AHS. The study is the most comprehensive of its kind in Canada and represents the first time in Alberta that cancer statistics have been broken down to show the impact of the leading lifestyle and environmental risk factors.

“Alberta’s population is continuing to grow,” says Sarah Hoffman, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health. “At the same time, our population is growing older. It’s a combination that is putting increasing pressure on our health system, so it is important to look at some of the factors that are within our control in helping protect our health. Prevention is one of the best tools we have when it comes to reducing the risk of cancer.”

“It’s important to recognize that no diet or lifestyle can promise absolute protection from cancer,” says Dr. Darren Brenner, an AHS epidemiologist who led the project with Dr. Christine Friedenreich, Scientific Leader for the department of Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention Research within AHS’ CancerControl Alberta.

“We don’t yet know enough to eliminate cancer completely but there are many proven strategies to greatly reduce the risk.”

The new data, found on, gives Albertans an opportunity to view a specific cancer type and dig deeper into the lifestyle and environmental factors that are linked to it. Soon this opportunity will be given to all Canadians. In November 2014, Drs. Friedenreich and Brenner received a four-year grant from the Canadian Cancer Society Research Institute to expand their study nationally and estimate the relationship between these same risk factors and cancer for each province in Canada.

They will estimate how cancer rates will be reduced by changing exposure to these risk factors up to the year 2045.

The study will provide valuable data for cancer prevention and promotion programs across Canada on the number of cancers that could be avoided by changes in lifestyle and environmental exposures.

“When it comes to cancer, people tend to think it’s all a matter of the genes we inherit, or that the list of things that cause cancer is so long and outside our control that it’s not worth bothering. These findings show that’s simply not true,” says Dr. Gerry Predy, Senior Medical Officer of Health for AHS.

“Even some of the most common cancers – such as breast, lung and colorectal – could be reduced by at least half by targeting the environments and the risk factors we already know about and can change.”

“There is also ample scientific evidence to show that supporting people who have already had cancer to quit smoking, be more physically active and limit alcohol can have a major impact,” adds Dr. Predy. “Modifying the influences on these factors improves treatment outcomes and reduces the chance of getting a second cancer later on.”

AHS, including the teams at ACPLF and CancerCare Alberta, is working together with workplaces, communities and the Ministry of Health to create environments that make it easier for Albertans to make the healthiest choices they can. Health care providers across the province are also helping to ensure every patient who might benefit is offered appropriate screening tests and effective services to reduce their risk.

“By working together to ensure the places we live, work and play are as supportive as possible to help people reduce risk, we can change the future of cancer in Alberta,” says Dr. Predy.

Visit for resources and strategies that can reduce cancer risk.

Alberta Health Services is the provincial health authority responsible for planning and delivering health supports and services for more than four million adults and children living in Alberta. Its mission is to provide a patient-focused, quality health system that is accessible and sustainable for all Albertans.

Alberta Health Services