Moderate levels of worry can motivate women to get mammograms

For women at risk of breast cancer, a little bit of worry can be a powerful incentive to get screened for the disease, new research shows.

Among more than 200 women who completed a cancer education program, those who expressed moderate levels of worry about developing breast cancer were most likely to receive a mammogram during the following year, according to a research team led by Michael A. Diefenbach, Ph.D., Fox Chase Cancer Center, Cheltenham, Penn.

"Whereas moderate levels of cancer worry appear to motivate screening behavior, high levels of cancer worry may actually inhibit mammography use," said Diefenbach. "Our results also suggest that educational programs that focus only on raising worry and fear to motivate the recipient may ultimately fail unless they also include an action plan that lays out how the desired health behavior can be achieved."

The investigators studied 213 women who participated in an education and risk assessment program for people with a family history of breast cancer, ovarian cancer or both. The women, who ranged in age from 26 to 72 years, learned basic information about genetics, risk factors for breast cancer, and American Cancer Society recommendations for mammography. They also completed questionnaires assessing how worried they felt about developing cancer and how likely they thought they were to develop it. The researchers report their findings in the September issue of Health Psychology.

Eighty-five percent of those over 35 and 76 percent of those under 35 reported having a mammogram in the year after completing the program. Older women and those who said they were worried about developing breast cancer were the most likely to obtain a mammogram. Interestingly, other factors, such as the number of prior mammograms the women had, their levels of general distress, or their perceived likelihood of developing breast cancer did not predict who would obtain a mammogram.

"Previous studies have found th

Contact: Michael A. Diefenbach, Ph.D.
Center for the Advancement of Health

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