Survey finds many Americans believe unsubstantiated claims about cancer

July 26, 2007

A new study from American Cancer Society researchers finds a surprising number of Americans believe scientifically unsubstantiated claims concerning cancer, and that population segments suffering the greatest burden of cancer are the most likely to be misinformed.

Evidence indicates that healthy behavior depends in part on an accurate assessment of proven risk factors. Previous research has shown that undue concern over unproven risk factors may distract some attention from proven risk factors and might actually result in decisions that are bad for the health. For the current report, published in the September 1 issue of CANCER, a peer reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society, researchers led by Kevin Stein, PhD in the American Cancer Society's Behavioral Research Center used a nationwide telephone survey to assess the prevalence of unproven beliefs about cancer in the U.S.

The survey included 12 inaccurate or unlikely statements about cancer risk, risk factors, and prevention, some of which frequently show up in email inboxes, and asked participants to identify the statements as true or false. While more than two-thirds of the participants were able to identify seven of the 12 statements as false, five of the 12 statements were endorsed as true by at least a quarter of the respondents, and for seven of the statements, uncertainty was higher than 15 percent. Among the survey's findings:The study also found that the two statements most often rated as "true" by the general public were among the statements unanimously identified as false by a group of ten epidemiologists who were also given the survey. Most strikingly, the statement about the risk of dying from cancer in the United States being on the increase is clearly false, as the age-standardized cancer death rate has been decreasing since the early 1990s, and the 5-year relative survival rate for all cancers combined has improved steadily over the last 30 years. Yet fully 68 percent of the respondents believed the statement. As for why so many believed living in a polluted city is a greater risk for lung cancer than smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, the authors point to studies that have shown people who engage in behaviors like smoking or unprotected sun exposure tend to underestimate the personal risks associated with these choices despite knowledge of the risk in general.

The researchers also found associations between certain sociodemographic variables and the likelihood of believing the false statements. One consistent finding was that males were more likely to believe the statements to be true than were females (eight of the 12 statements). Indeed, some research indicates that males may be less attentive to and less likely to seek medical information than are females, and thus may be less well informed. Those with lower educational levels were more likely to endorse ten of the 12 statements, consistent with most prior studies of health literacy.

The authors concede that individual beliefs are frequently not the most influential determinants of health behavior, and that other factors, like access to regular care and insurance, physician advice, and socioeconomic factors, have a major influence. Still, they conclude: "Public education programs and interventions to address and convincingly refute commonly held misconceptions regarding cancer risks might increase the adoption of healthy attitudes, beliefs, and, most importantly, behaviors," adding that "educational and intervention programs should be culturally-informed and accessible to all individuals, with special attention placed on reaching the highest risk populations."
The American Cancer Society is dedicated to eliminating cancer as a major health problem by saving lives, diminishing suffering and preventing cancer through research, education, advocacy and service. Founded in 1913 and with national headquarters in Atlanta, the Society has 13 regional Divisions and local offices in 3,400 communities, involving millions of volunteers across the United States. For more information anytime, call toll free 1-800-ACS-2345 or visit

Article: Stein K, Zhao L, Crammer C, Gansler T. Prevalence and sociodemographic correlates of beliefs regarding cancer risks. Cancer 2007. Epub ahead of print (DOI: 10.1002/cncr.22880); published online 26 July 2007.

American Cancer Society

Related Breast Cancer Articles from Brightsurf:

Oncotarget: IGF2 expression in breast cancer tumors and in breast cancer cells
The Oncotarget authors propose that methylation of DVDMR represents a novel epigenetic biomarker that determines the levels of IGF2 protein expression in breast cancer.

Breast cancer: AI predicts which pre-malignant breast lesions will progress to advanced cancer
New research at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, could help better determine which patients diagnosed with the pre-malignant breast cancer commonly as stage 0 are likely to progress to invasive breast cancer and therefore might benefit from additional therapy over and above surgery alone.

Partial breast irradiation effective treatment option for low-risk breast cancer
Partial breast irradiation produces similar long-term survival rates and risk for recurrence compared with whole breast irradiation for many women with low-risk, early stage breast cancer, according to new clinical data from a national clinical trial involving researchers from The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center - Arthur G.

Breast screening linked to 60 per cent lower risk of breast cancer death in first 10 years
Women who take part in breast screening have a significantly greater benefit from treatments than those who are not screened, according to a study of more than 50,000 women.

More clues revealed in link between normal breast changes and invasive breast cancer
A research team, led by investigators from Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, details how a natural and dramatic process -- changes in mammary glands to accommodate breastfeeding -- uses a molecular process believed to contribute to survival of pre-malignant breast cells.

Breast tissue tumor suppressor PTEN: A potential Achilles heel for breast cancer cells
A highly collaborative team of researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina and Ohio State University report in Nature Communications that they have identified a novel pathway for connective tissue PTEN in breast cancer cell response to radiotherapy.

Computers equal radiologists in assessing breast density and associated breast cancer risk
Automated breast-density evaluation was just as accurate in predicting women's risk of breast cancer, found and not found by mammography, as subjective evaluation done by radiologists, in a study led by researchers at UC San Francisco and Mayo Clinic.

Blood test can effectively rule out breast cancer, regardless of breast density
A new study published in PLOS ONE demonstrates that Videssa® Breast, a multi-protein biomarker blood test for breast cancer, is unaffected by breast density and can reliably rule out breast cancer in women with both dense and non-dense breast tissue.

Study shows influence of surgeons on likelihood of removal of healthy breast after breast cancer dia
Attending surgeons can have a strong influence on whether a patient undergoes contralateral prophylactic mastectomy after a diagnosis of breast cancer, according to a study published by JAMA Surgery.

Young breast cancer patients undergoing breast conserving surgery see improved prognosis
A new analysis indicates that breast cancer prognoses have improved over time in young women treated with breast conserving surgery.

Read More: Breast Cancer News and Breast Cancer Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to