Health Promotion Journal of Australia Health Promotion Journal of Australia Society
Journal of the Australian Health Promotion Association
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Public perceptions of cancer risk factors: a Western Australian study

Anna MacTiernan A , Lin Fritschi B , Terry Slevin C , Geoffrey Jalleh D , Rob Donovan D and Jane Heyworth A E
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A School of Population Health, Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences, The University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley, WA 6009, Australia.

B Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research, The University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley, WA 6009, Australia.

C Cancer Council Western Australia, 15 Bedbrook Place, Shenton Park, WA 6008, Australia.

D Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer Control, Curtin University, GPO Box U1987, Curtin University, Perth, WA 6845, Australia.

E Corresponding author. Email: jane.heyworth@uwa.edu.au

Health Promotion Journal of Australia 25(2) 90-96 https://doi.org/10.1071/HE13081
Submitted: 27 September 2013  Accepted: 13 March 2014   Published: 25 July 2014

Abstract

Issue addressed: People’s perceptions of risk may influence health-related behaviours. The aim of this study was to investigate the perception of cancer risk factors among Western Australian adults in order to inform health promotion policies.

Methods: Cross-sectional surveys of 2094 adults were undertaken in 2007/2008 in which respondents were asked whether they thought factors increased or decreased the risk of cancer. Factors included both established and unestablished risk factors for cancer. The distribution of perceptions was compared according to age and sex.

Results: The study found high levels of endorsement for some unestablished risk factors (74–91%) and comparatively lower levels of endorsement for many established risk factors (33–80%). The established risk factors of smoking and asbestos received high levels of endorsement (94–98%).

Conclusion: It appears that the alignment between scientifically established risk factors and the Western Australian public’s perception of cancer risk factors could be improved.

So what?: Health promotion strategies are needed to improve the public’s awareness of cancer risk factors. The high levels of endorsement attributed to unestablished risk factors highlight the need to dispel myths surrounding cancer and to reinforce the key factors in cancer prevention. Ongoing assessment of the alignment between community perceptions of cancer risk and the scientific evidence for cancer risk is important for guiding prioritisation within public health organisations.


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