Causes of Cancer: Genetics vs. Lifestyle {Infographic}

In previous posts, we discussed the best anticancer foods, how one can slow the growth of cancer, and of the importance of antioxidants in cancer prevention. All of these posts talk about our lifestyle and environmental factors that can cause cancer. Perhaps, cancer is in our genes and we cannot do much to prevent it.

If these foods can slow the growth of cancer, why do so many people get cancer? How often do people get cancer due to their genetics, and how often is it because of lifestyle?

Different studies tried to answer this important question.  One of the best is an excellent recent review by the MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas. The review analyzed the link between the agents/factors that cause cancer and the agents that prevent it. This review is based on more than 100 studies and trials done on this topic, so there’s a lot of information. We’ve summarized it for you in this infographic.

Scroll to the bottom to read the text version, or leave a comment if you’d like to share this infographic, and I’ll send it your way.

Cancer is recognized as one of the world’s biggest killers. Every year more than 10 million people are diagnosed with cancer worldwide. Yet, despite the enormous amount of research done on cancer, it still kills millions every year. In the USA alone, cancer is responsible for about 23% of the total deaths. This led to the famous declaration of “war on cancer” by U.S. President Richard Nixon in the 70’s. Today, the search for a cure for cancer is considered to be the holy grail of modern medicine.

Cancer is caused by both internal factors (such as inherited mutations or hormones) and environmental/lifestyle factors (such as diet and tobacco). Studies performed on identical twins showed that only 5%-10% of all cancer cases can be attributed to genetic defects, whereas the remaining 90%-95% are due to either lifestyle or environmental factors. The main lifestyle factors that influence cancer growth are:

  • Diet (fried foods, red meat, excessive consumption of alcohol and other foods that contains carcinogens)
  • Obesity
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Physical inactivity
  • Sun exposure
  • Environmental pollutants
  • Infections
  • Stress

The evidence indicates that of all cancer-related deaths, 30%-35% are linked to diet, 25%-30% are due to tobacco, 10%-20% are linked to obesity, about 15%-20% are due to infections, and the remaining percentages are due to other factors like radiation, alcohol consumption, stress, physical inactivity, environmental pollutants etc. At least half of all cases of prostate, colorectal, breast, gall bladder and endometrial cancer were caused directly because of the food people chose to eat! If you also considers the links between obesity and alcohol to our diet, it is clear that diet is the main cause of cancer in the world today. The extent to which diet contributes to cancer deaths varies greatly, depending on the type of cancer.

  • Pharnyx  – 20%
  • Bladder  – 20%
  • Mouth  – 20%
  • Esophagus – 20%
  • Lung – 20%
  • Colorectal – 70%
  • Larynx – 20%
  • Pancreatic – 50%
  • Prostate – 75%
  • Gall Bladder – 50%
  • Gastric – 35%
  • Breast – 50%
  • Endometrial – 50%
  • Other – 10%

The same study also reveals what cancer prevention requires in terms of diet:

  • Increased consumption of plant-based foods, especially fruits and vegetables (here is a list of foods that seem to prevent cancer)
  • Moderate use of alcohol
  • Minimal meat consumption
  • Caloric restriction
  • Use of whole grains

And in terms of lifestyle:

  • Smoking cessation (Tobacco use increases the risk of developing at least 14 types of cancer, and accounts for 87% of deaths from lung cancer. Tobacco contains at least 50 carcinogens, the effects of which can be reduced by certain foods like turmeric).
  • Exercise
  • Wise exposure to sunlight

In many cases, cancer can be a preventable disease. You can learn more about the topic here and by watching the following video by Dr. Michael Greger:


Anand, Preetha, et al. “Cancer is a preventable disease that requires major lifestyle changes.” Pharmaceutical research 25.9 (2008): 2097-2116.

All info and stats in the infographic are from this study.