U.S. Has 7th Highest Cancer Rate in the World

Experts Say Lifestyle Changes Needed to Reduce Nation's Cancer Rates

Medically Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on January 23, 2011
From the WebMD Archives

Jan 24, 2011 -- About 300 of every 100,000 Americans develop cancer each year, which means the U.S. has the seventh highest cancer rate in the world.

“We are higher than we should be, and this is not the type of list you want to be on top of,” says Alice Bender, MS, RD, a nutrition communications manager at the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) in Washington, D.C.

The new rankings were compiled by the AICR,using World Health Organization (WHO) estimates. The American Cancer Society and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in France are planning to issue a report on the same data in the coming weeks.

The U.S. ranks 10th in the world for cancers in men and 8th for cancer in women, the report shows.

Our lifestyles have a lot to do with our ranking, she says. “Americans are more likely to be overweight, drink more alcohol, and don't engage in as much physical activity as people in other parts of the world,” Bender says.

Lifestyle Changes Can Prevent Some Cancers

The good news is that scientists estimate up to one-third of the most common cancers can be prevented by maintaining a healthy weight, being more physically active, and eating more healthfully.

“The high cancer incidence in the U.S. and other countries is not inevitable,” she says. “Lifestyle changes can really make a difference."

For example, maintaining a healthy weight throughout life could prevent more than 100,000 incidences of cancer, she says.

“Eating less red meat and more whole grains and vegetables, which are rich in fiber and a lot of helpful phytochemicals and antioxidants, can help maintain a healthy weight,” she says.

Avoiding tobacco smoke and sunburns could also help reduce cancer rates, she says.

There are clear links with dietary patterns and many cancers, says Timothy Harlan, MD, the medical director at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans.

“Getting more fruit and nuts, whole grains, veggies, legumes, fish, as well as consuming less red meat (and lean meats), dairy (preferably processed dairy), quality oils and fats, and moderate alcohol, one can have a dramatic impact on weight, heart disease, diabetes, and cancers,” he says in an email.

“I believe that these sorts of statistics are helpful to understand the global issue [but] it is important to take them in context,” he says in an email. “Smoking, pollution, environmental exposure, and genetics all play a role in cancers right alongside diet and exercise.”

According to the new data, the 10 countries with the highest overall cancer rates were:

1. Denmark326.1 per 100,000
2. Ireland317 per 100,000
3. Australia314.1 per 100,000
4. New Zealand309.2 per 100,000
5. Belgium306.8 per 100,000
6. France300.4 per 100,000
7. U.S.300.2 per 100,000
8. Norway299.1 per 100,000
9. Canada296.6 per 100,000
10. Czech Republic295 per 100,000

Show Sources


Alice Bender, MS, RD, nutrition communications manager, American Institute for Cancer Research, Washington, D.C.

Timothy Harlan, MD, medical director, Tulane University School of Medicine, New Orleans.

International Agency for Research on Cancer: "Gobocan 2008."

American Institute for Cancer Research: "US Has World’s 7th Highest Cancer Rate."

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