Sociodemographic determinants of cancer treatment health literacy




Ethnic and racial disparities in cancer outcomes are often attributed to sociodemographic factors, including income, education, insurance status, and access to quality cancer care. Less attention has been directed toward other possible contributors, such as misconceptions about cancer and its treatment.


Nine hundred fifty-seven U.S. adults who reported that they had never been diagnosed with cancer were identified and surveyed using a random digit dialing telephone survey. Sociodemographic associations with endorsement of five misconceptions about cancer treatment were evaluated by weighted logistic regression.


The most prevalent misconception, “Treating cancer with surgery can cause it to spread throughout the body,” was endorsed as true by 41% of the respondents. The second most prevalent misconception, “The medical industry is withholding a cure for cancer from the public in order to increase profits, ” was identified as true by 27%. The statement, “Pain medications are ineffective against cancer pain, ” was accurately rejected by 68% of the respondents, and 89% of the respondents correctly disagreed with the statement, “All you need to beat cancer is a positive attitude, not treatment. ” Eighty-seven percent of the respondents were able to identify the statement, “Cancer is something that cannot be effectively treated,” as false. Respondents who were older, nonwhite, Southern, or indicated being less informed about cancer endorsed the most misconceptions.


The prevalence of at least three of the five cancer misconceptions was unacceptably high, and varied by several sociodemographic factors. These beliefs may increase the risk for cancer morbidity and mortality because of poor adherence to treatment regimens. Cancer 2005. © 2005 American Cancer Society.