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Modifiable Risk Factors

Modifiable risk factors are behaviours and exposures that can raise or lower a person’s risk of cancer. They are modifiable because they can, in theory, be changed.

These 5 key modifiable risk factors are associated with the risk of developing cancer and other chronic diseases (e.g., diabetes, cardiovascular disease):

  • tobacco use
  • alcohol consumption
  • excess body weight (overweight and obesity)
  • physical activity
  • healthy eating

Tobacco use, alcohol consumption and excess body weight (overweight and obesity) each increase a person’s risk of developing several types of cancer. Physical activity and healthy eating (frequently assessed by vegetable and fruit consumption) are associated with a reduced risk of developing several cancers.

This table shows the percentage of Ontario adults who report having these modifiable cancer risk factors.

Percentage of Adults Reporting Selected Modifiable Risk Factors, Ontario, 2014

Current smoking Adults who report smoking daily or occasionally ≥20 years 18.7%
Alcohol consumption Adults who report drinking alcohol in excess of the recommendations for cancer prevention: > 2 drinks per day for men and >1 drink per day for women ≥19 years 8.2%
Obesity Adults with a body mass index (BMI)≥ 30 ≥18 26.8%
Physical activity Adults who are moderately active or active (average expenditure of 1.5 kcal/kg/day or greater) during leisure time, based on self-report ≥18 51.5%

Vegetable and fruit consumption

Adults who report consuming vegetables and fruit 5 times or more per day ≥18 32.2%

Prepared by: Cancer Care Ontario, Prevention and Cancer Control (Population Health and Prevention)