A new study has confirmed that smoking, alcohol, and obesity are the primary factors contributing to more than half of all cancer deaths worldwide. Today, cancer is the second most common cause of death. These three causes are a big part of the reason why.

University of Washington Cancer Study: The Basics

University of Washington’s school of medicine examined how specific risk factors contribute to cancer diagnoses and cancer deaths around the world. Smoking, body weight, and alcohol have long been established as risk factors, but it’s been a challenge to determine just how much they affect the risk of cancer death across populations.

Those three factors alone are responsible for over 4.4 million cancer deaths annually. Men are more likely to die of cancer due to these factors, with 50.6% of male cancer deaths attributed to smoking, obesity and/or alcohol. Roughly a third of all female cancer deaths have been linked to these risk factors.

A smoking cigarette sitting on a fence rail.

Smoking: The Obvious (And Deadly) Risk

Smoking remains the most overwhelming risk factor for both men and women and accounts for more than 36% of all cancer deaths attributed to lifestyle causes. The three most common types of cancer caused by smoking are tracheal, bronchus, and lung cancer.

Related Content: What Is Cervical Cancer?

Other Types of Cancer Caused By Lifestyle Risk Factors

Obesity and alcohol consumption create their own set of problems. Female cancer deaths are primarily due to:

  • Cervical cancer – 17.9% of lifestyle factor deaths
  • Colorectal cancer – 15.8%
  • Breast cancer – 11%

Male cancer deaths are slightly different:

  • Colorectal cancer – 13.3%
  • Esophageal cancer – 9.7%
  • Stomach cancer – 6.6%

Prevention Makes A Difference

It’s important to note that not all cancer types are preventable and even those listed above have strong links to hereditary factors. Still, the substantial share of cancer deaths caused by smoking, alcohol, and obesity offers an opportunity to make a difference. We need more public and private investment in reducing smoking rates, helping families maintain healthy weights with access to healthy foods and education on the dangers of alcohol consumption. Prevention saves lives – possibly millions of lives.