Cancer is a major health threat that has a long-term impact on quality of life and health worries. The present study is focused on two major issues: (1) the impact that a history of cancer has on reactions to other diseases, in addition to cancer and general health worries; and, (2) the impact that having lived with someone who had cancer has on health perceptions and behaviors. All 108 participants had osteoarthritis, a symptomatic but benign disease (49 people have had cancer, 22 had lived with a cancer patient, and 37 had not had any close experience with cancer). Cancer and health worries were lowest among the people with vicarious experience, while monitoring for bodily signs was similar and highest in both cancer experience groups. Reactions to arthritis suggest more vigilance among people who have had self or vicarious experience with cancer, while reactions to ambiguous symptoms suggest vigilance especially among those with a personal history of cancer. Overall, the findings suggest that the effects of self-experience with cancer and of close experience with a cancer patient may be long-term and impact upon both health perceptions and behaviors. Copyright © 2002 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.