Fearing Cancer Can Both Encourage or Discourage Screening

Fearing Cancer Can Both Encourage or Discourage Screening

shutterstock_130089590Concern about the possibility of developing cancer often times leads to colon cancer screening. However, the same concern also makes people less likely to actually undergo the exam. Those are the conclusions of research conducted at the University College London (UCL) that analyzed what influences the decision to undergo a colon cancer test.

The study entitled “Cancer Fear: Facilitator and Deterrent to Participation in Colorectal Cancer Screening,” was recently published in the Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention journal and focused on the influence of fear in the decision to get colorectal cancer screening.

The research enrolled almost eight thousand adult participants in the United Kingdom and revealed that distinct experiences of fear lead to different probabilities of getting the examination.

“Many people are afraid of getting cancer, but fear doesn’t have the same effect on everyone,” lead author of the study, Charlotte Vrinten, a research psychologist at the Cancer Research UK Health Behaviour Research Centre at UCL, said in a news release. “For some people, cancer fear motivates them to get checked up, for others, it puts them off from finding out whether they have cancer.”

During the study, the research team analyzed the reasons that explain why fear leads to opposite outcomes. This study focused on distinct aspects of fear in order to understand why this feeling provokes opposite effects on decision making concerning cancer screening.

The team found that while worrying about the disease increases the probability of receiving the test, feeling uncomfortable about the idea decreases the likelihood in 12%. “Twelve percent may not seem like a lot, but given that tens of thousands of people are eligible for this type of screening, it means a big difference in the number of people actually attending,” said Dr. Vrinten.

The data from all the participants who participated in the study (aged 55 to 64 years old) was provided by the UK Flexible Sigmoidoscopy trial. The results showed that 82% of the patients reported they would “probably” or “definitely” accept an offer for colorectal cancer screening. In addition, this study also “showed that cancer fear is still very common: more than half of our participants said they felt uncomfortable when thinking about cancer, and about a quarter worried a lot about cancer,” explained Dr. Vrinten.

The study showed that 59% of the participants feared cancer more than any other disease, while 53% were uncomfortable when thinking about the disease, and 25% reported to worry a lot about it. In addition, among the group that worried about the disease, 89% said they wanted to receive screening.

2,000 participants in the study were randomized to receive colorectal screening, with clinical records revealing that 71% actually showed up to preform the exam. From those who had previously reported they felt uncomfortable thinking about cancer and were invited to receive the screen, 68% actually did it. “Public campaigns often focus on increasing public fear about cancer, for example, by emphasizing how common cancer is or how deadly some types of cancer are. This might put some people off, rather than motivate them to get screened. Public information about endoscopic screening for colon cancer should help people understand that it can actually prevent colon cancer, so having the test can mean they have one less cancer to worry about,” added Dr. Vrinten.

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