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Disease Prevention

Misconceptions Revealed About Cancer in America


If you have a cancer education/prevention aspect of your program, or if you’re planning to create one, you would be wise to take note of several findings from the poll.

Many Americans focus solely on family history and disregard age as one of the most powerful cancer risk factors, and many Americans do not know at what age or how frequently they should be screened for those cancers for which they are at highest risk, according to the poll.

The poll’s five major findings are as follows:

* Cancer is a major health concern among Americans.

* Americans lack knowledge of many cancer risk factors.

* Americans focus on family history and not age when thinking about cancer.

* Americans recognize many important cancer prevention measures, but many do not follow them.

* Americans do not know how frequently they should have screenings for cancer.

"The poll findings shed light on the knowledge gap that exists about cancer," said John Ford, president of Discovery Health Media Inc. "Clearly, consumers need better and more targeted information."

Public’s Top Concerns

Cancer was identified by 38 percent of Americans as the single most important health problem they "could personally face in the future." Heart disease, at 19 percent, was once again second to cancer.

The results clearly show women fear breast cancer to a much larger degree than any other type,

and men fear prostate cancer by a wide margin over lung cancer, which is second.

* A majority (54 percent) of women are most concerned about getting breast cancer, followed by skin cancer (18 percent), uterine/cervical cancer (17 percent), lung cancer (15 percent), ovarian cancer (13 percent) and colon/rectum cancer (10 percent).

* More than four in 10 men (43 percent) are most concerned about getting prostate cancer, followed by lung cancer (25 percent), skin cancer (20 percent) and colon/rectum cancer (16 percent).

The major implications of which specific cancers men and women are concerned about is three-fold:

1. Women fear breast cancer, cervical and ovarian cancers out of proportion to the actual risk of contracting and especially of dying of these diseases.

2. There is a closer parallel between what cancers men are concerned about contracting and what cancers they actually contract and die of. Prostate cancer is the most common form of cancer among men and it kills more men than any cancer other than lung cancer.

3. Americans are not as concerned as they should be about colon/rectum cancer.

Americans Lack Knowledge of Risk Factors

Americans severely underestimate the critical importance of age, ethnicity, lifestyle, alcohol and diet as determinants of cancer risk and, although recognizing lung cancer is a common and very deadly disease, they wrongly believe pollution is as much a factor as smoking, according to the poll.

* Two-thirds of Americans (67 percent) do not know men are at a higher lifetime risk of developing cancer in general than women.

* Seven in 10 Americans (71 percent) incorrectly believe whether a person gets cancer has more to dowith family history than age. Age is the single most important determinant.

* Seven in 10 Americans (68 percent) think a non-smoker living in a heavily polluted city has the same chance of getting lung cancer as a smoker living in a city with little or no pollution.

* Seven in 10 Americans do not know African-Americans are more likely to develop cancer than persons of any other racial or ethnic group.

* Four in 10 Americans (42 percent) do not know two-thirds of cancer deaths are related to lifestyle and other controllable risk factors, and 74 percent do not know one-third are related to diet.

* Half of Americans do not know 20,000 cancer deaths each year are attributable to alcohol use.


© 2002 Health Resources Publishing