Not smoking cigarettes is a widely known way to prevent cancer, but it turns out that many people don’t know much about their disease risk beyond that.

A new survey from the American Institute for Cancer Research suggests only half of Americans know that being obese increases your risk of cancer, and even fewer than that know alcohol, lack of exercise and a poor diet — such as one that includes lots of processed meat and few fruits and vegetables — are factors. In the case of obesity, it has been linked to several cancers, including breast, colorectal and esophageal. Alcohol has been linked to several of its own, and processed meats like bacon can lead to colorectal and stomach cancers.

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Alice Bender, the head of AICR’s nutrition programs, said in a statement, “It’s troubling that people don't recognize alcohol and processed meats increase cancer risk.”

The American Cancer Society recommends limiting daily alcohol consumption to two drinks per day for men and one per day for women — because they tend to have smaller bodies that break down alcohol more slowly.

There is also misinformation out there: According to the survey, most Americans think stress, genetically modified foods and hormones found in beef products cause cancer, “all of which remain unproven,” the institute notes.

“Close to one of three common cancers in the U.S. can be prevented through diet, weight management, and physical activity,” the AICR says. “That estimate grows to half when factors such as not smoking and avoiding sun damage are added.”

That means putting on sunscreen even in the winter. The ultraviolet radiation that damages your DNA in the summer comes through during cold weather or complete cloud coverage as well. When that damage happens faster than your body can repair it, you could experience permanent changes.

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Healthy people do get cancer, so “sometimes it’s easier to worry about genes or uncontrollable things rather than your everyday choices,” Bender said in the statement. “But the research says that being physically active, staying a healthy weight, and eating a plant-based diet has the potential to prevent hundreds of thousands of cancer cases each year.”

The institute called being at a healthy weight “the single most important step people can take to lower their cancer risk.”

The American Cancer Society explains how this happens: Being overweight causes the body to create more estrogen and insulin, and having an excess of those hormones circulating in your body can spur cancer growth. In addition to keeping your weight under control, being physically active has other benefits in cancer prevention because it “can also help improve your hormone levels and the way your immune system works.”

See also:

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