A new survey finds many people hold mistaken beliefs about what causes cancer and tend to inflate the threat from environmental factors while minimizing the real risks stemming from bad life-styles.  The survey is being released in advance of a World Cancer Summit in Geneva from where Lisa Schlein reports for VOA.

Nearly 30,000 people in 29 high, middle and low-income countries were surveyed.  This is the first study to provide internationally comparable data on how people perceive risk factors.

International Union Against Cancer President David Hill tells VOA the data shows people in poorer countries have a much more pessimistic view about the prospects of being cured of cancer than do people in high-income countries.

"I think that is a combination of, of course, reality because the opportunities to have life-saving therapy in poor countries are not as great," he said.  "But, I also think on top of that is a pessimism that is ... well existential if you like.  People simply do not believe it is a disease that can be cured even under the best of circumstances."

Some of the key findings of the survey show how misperceptions about cancer can increase the risks.  For instance, it finds people in high-income countries are far less likely than people in poorer countries to believe that drinking alcohol increases the risk of cancer.  In fact, evidence indicates cancer risk rises as alcohol intake increases.

Then again, the report says people in rich countries believe stress and air pollution are more likely to cause cancer than does alcohol intake.  Research shows just the opposite to be true.

Dr. Hill says people in all countries are more ready to accept that things outside of their control might cause cancer, such as air pollution, than things that are within their own control, such as overweight.  

"A very big proportion of avoidable cancer does relate to the sorts of things people can choose to do or not to do ...  The big ticket ones-of course, first stop smoking," he said. "That almost overwhelms everything else.  Than more recently, we are coming to understand the relationship between overweight, obesity and a number of cancers.  That is relatively new news to people everywhere."

Dr. Hill says many cancers can be prevented if people choose to follow a healthy life style.  He says people who do not smoke, do not drink too much alcohol, who exercise, keep their weight under control and refrain from too much sun-bathing will reduce their risks.

He says the survey puts to rest many of the myths and misperceptions surrounding cancer.  He says governments can use this data to mount education campaigns that can change the way people think about cancer.  And, this can save their lives