Misconceptions about what triggers cancer cause much distress for patients and confusion for the medical world. On behalf of the International Union Against Cancer (UICC), Roy Morgan Research and Gallup International conducted a survey that sheds light on this issue. Their research showed that people are inclined to exaggerate threats from environmental factors even though these have little impact on the disease. On the other hand, they downplay known hazardous behaviours as cancer risk factors. Their findings were revealed at the recent UICC World Cancer Congress in Switzerland. Using a sample of 29,925 people from 29 countries, the researchers were able to identify areas where patients' lives could be saved and which misconceptions could be dealt with. Their study was the first of its kind, particularly as it provided comparable data on the perceptions of cancer risk factors from a global perspective. UICC President-elect Dr David Hill said the findings of the study will encourage governments worldwide to launch education campaigns that would improve the lives of many. 'The survey reveals there are some big unheard messages,' said Dr Hill, who is also the head of the Australia-based Cancer Council Victoria. 'These kinds of data help us to quantify the differences between countries and to highlight where additional efforts are needed,' he added. 'Some of these countries have rarely had any population survey data to help their programme planning efforts.' According to Dr Hill, guidelines must be given to people to help them recognise that change is needed, particularly in their perception of this disease. 'They need to be shown how to change, they need to be given resources or support to change,' he explained. Change is also possible through positive reinforcement, he added. 'All this can be made possible through education programmes that would motivate and support behaviour change,' Dr Hill said. The study found that people in high-income countries attributed insufficient fruit and vegetable consumption to a higher perceived risk of cancer (59%), while alcohol intake had a lower perceived risk (51%). The researchers said that alcohol intake has been proven to have an adverse impact on patient health as compared to the preventive effect of fruits and vegetables. The figures drop for middle-income and low-income countries: 26% of the middle-income respondents believe there is no link between alcohol intake and cancer risk, compared to 15% of low-income respondents. The survey also found that when it comes to cancer treatment, people in middle- and low-income countries have a tendency to see the glass as being half empty, while people in high-income countries see it as being half full. In particular, 48% of the low-income respondents said cancer is not really curable, that 'not much can be done'. Only 17% of the high-income respondents and 39% the middle-income group are pessimistic about cancer treatment. High-income countries included in the study included Australia, Austria, Czech Republic, Greece, New Zealand and the US among others. Middle-income countries included Georgia, Panama, Romania and Ukraine. Low-income countries were Kenya and Nigeria. Most people from all 29 countries said they would be willing to accept the notion that external factors (e.g. pollution) could trigger cancer instead of factors that are under their control, such as body weight. Concerning treatment, 72% of those in the high-income group said the decision on what course to follow should either be made between the patient and doctor or by the patient alone, while 75% of the low-income respondents said the decision should rest with the doctor. Dr Hill commented that the information obtained from this study will be used by UICC to raise awareness across the globe, especially about how to establish effective cancer control programmes.