Inaccurate beliefs about cancer risk may contribute to unhealthy lifestyle behaviors and poor adherence to recommended screening and prevention guidelines. To address this issue the current study assessed the prevalence and sociodemographic correlates of scientifically unsubstantiated beliefs about cancer risk in a representative sample of the US population.
Nine hundred fifty-seven US adults with no history of cancer were surveyed by telephone. The survey included 12 statements about cancer risk, risk factors, and prevention that were framed to be contrary to the consensus of current scientific evidence.
Participants were inconsistent in their ability to identify the statements as false, and appraisal accuracy was associated with several sociodemographic characteristics. Five of the 12 misconceptions were endorsed as true by at least a quarter of the respondents, and uncertainty was higher than 15% for 7 statements. At the same time, more than two-thirds of the participants were able to identify 7 statements as false and, on average, respondents endorsed fewer than 3 statements as true. Respondents who were male, older, non-White, less educated, and of lower income were most likely to hold inaccurate beliefs.
A notable percentage of the participants in this study hold beliefs about cancer risk at odds with the prevailing scientific evidence. Because the population segments with the least accurate knowledge also bear the greatest burden of cancer, areas for public education and intervention efforts are identified. Cancer 2007. © 2007 American Cancer Society.