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Fatalistic beliefs about cancer cause many to ignore cancer prevention advice

PHILADELPHIA -- If you feel that you are fated for cancer, your belief could turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. According to a national survey of more than 6,000 U.S. adults published in the May issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a substantial number of American adults hold fatalistic beliefs about cancer and are correspondingly less likely to take basic steps to lower their cancer risk, such as exercising, quitting smoking and eating a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables.

The study, which analyzes data from the National Cancer Institutes Health Information National Trends Survey, is the first national survey in almost 20 years to assess Americans knowledge about and attitudes toward cancer prevention. The findings have implications for cancer education efforts.

"Many Americans seem to feel afraid and helpless in regards to cancer, which may be exacerbated by conflicting news reports and a general lack of education on the causes and prevention of cancer," said Jeff Niederdeppe, Ph.D., professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. "They say well, there is nothing much you can do about it and, as our survey shows, they indeed do nothing about it."

The survey asked respondents if they agreed with three statements about cancer. About 47 percent of those surveyed agreed with the statement that "It seems like almost everything causes cancer," while 27 percent agreed that "Theres not much people can do to lower their chances of getting cancer." Moreover, 71.5 percent of American adults agreed that "There are so many recommendations about preventing cancer, its hard to know which ones to follow."

People who maintained at least one of these three beliefs were less likely than others to exercise weekly and eat five daily servings of fruits and vegetables. People who believed that "its hard to know" what to do were more likely to smoke. All three beliefs, the researchers say, were associated with
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Contact: Greg Lester
lester@aacr.org
267-646-0554
American Association for Cancer Research
17-May-2007


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