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Four cancer risk factors cause 47,000 cases of cancer per year in Canada.

The four cancer risk factors we investigated in this study were tobacco smoking, alcohol use, excess weight and physical inactivity. These risk factors are connected to lifestyle choices and are all preventable. H Krueger & Associates Inc. has developed a risk factor reduction model which allows us to predict what kind of outcomes we would see if all Canadians had healthier lifestyles.

The Economic Burden of Cancers attributable to Tobacco Smoking, Excess Weight, Alcohol Use and Physical Inactivity in Canada

cancer risk factors Canada

Krueger H, Andres EM, Koot JM, Reilly BD. 2016. Current Oncology. Vol 23 No 4.

How much cancer could be prevented in Canada if these four risk factors were reduced across the country? What if each province could attain the lowest risk factor rate already exhibited in another province?  

The purposes of this study were to:

  • Calculate the proportion of cancers in Canada attributable to tobacco smoking, excess weight, alcohol use and physical inactivity.
  • Explore variation in the proportions of those risk factors for cancer over time by sex and province.
  • Estimate the economic burden of cancer attributable to the four risk factors.
  • Calculate the potential reduction in cancers and economic burden if all provinces achieved prevalence rates equivalent to the best in Canada.

Cancers in Canada Attributable to Four Preventable Cancer Risk Factors 

Tobacco Smoking

cancer risk factors tobacco smoking

Tobacco smoking was responsible for 15.2% of cancers across Canada. That equals 25,840 cases of cancer. Even though Canadians have made strides in reducing the prevalence and intensity of tobacco smoking, it still stood out as an enormous threat.

The three additional cancer risk factors that we analyzed represented a combined threat that was close to the level attributed to tobacco use.  

Excess Weight

About 5.1%, or 8,670 cases of cancer were caused by excess weight.​ 

Alcohol Use

Our research revealed that 3.9%, or 6,630 cases of cancer were due to alcohol use.

Physical Inactivity

​Physical inactivity, the fourth lifestyle choice we studied, was tied to 3.5%, or 5,950 cases of cancer per year in Canada.

Annual Economic Burden of these Four Cancer Risk Factors​

​These four cancer risk factors were responsible for 47,000 cases of cancer per year. This was about 27.7% of all cases of cancer. The good news is that this rate has declined since 2000, when it was 30.1%

If we changed our lifestyles, what outcomes could we expect?

In our analysis, we focused on comparing provinces with each other. No province was at zero, but some were clearly more successful in reducing the cancer risk factors of tobacco smoking, excess weight, alcohol use and physical inactivity. We used the best scores as our benchmark.

If each province attained the lowest risk factor rate already exhibited in another province, there would be 6,204 less cases of cancer per year.

How much is this costing Canadians?

The 47,000 cases of cancer translate into an annual economic burden of $9.6 billion. 

How much could we save?

If Canadians had healthier lifestyles, we could save an average of $1.2 billion per year. This estimate was based on reducing the incidence of cancer by 6,204 cases per year.