25 September 2019

Patients blame their cancer on luck, not lifestyle

Cancer Patients

Despite an abundance of evidence-based cancer prevention campaigns it seems Australian cancer patients think a top risk factor for the disease is just bad luck, researchers say. 

A survey led by the University of South Australia and the Vietnam National Cancer Institute found Australian patients thought “getting older” was the leading cause of their cancer, followed by “family history or genes” and “bad luck or fate” coming in third place.

By comparison Vietnamese patients said the leading cause of cancer was a “poor diet”, followed by “air pollution” and thirdly, an exposure to “pesticides”.

The cross-cohort study compared the perceptions of 585 cancer patients in Australia and Vietnam, recording survey feedback according to how participants ranked 25 possible “cancer-causing” beliefs.

And despite the researcher’s inclusion of known cancer risk factors, such as smoking, sun exposure and alcohol consumption, they also included a number of non evidence-based beliefs.

“This data suggests that a substantial proportion of both Australian and Vietnamese patients hold fantastical beliefs toward the development of their cancer,” the study authors said.

“This may impact on a patient’s willingness to engage in essential health behaviour and influence their decisions related to treatments and/or care.”

Across both cohorts, smoking was ranked the fifth most likely and alcohol the ninth most likely cause of cancer. This was despite repeated public health messages in both countries emphasising that many types of cancers could be prevented with behavioural changes. 

Further research was needed to determine whether patients’ fatalistic beliefs were a coping mechanism to avoid self-blame for their diagnosis, the researchers said.

One method to counteract fatalistic beliefs could be the development of public health campaigns which aimed to empower patients and the community to take control of their health, the authors added.

“Such campaigns could aim to address the fatalistic views and emphasise the array of behaviours that people can engage in to help prevent, detect and treat cancer,” they said.

The study authors concluded that ensuring patients held accurate beliefs about cancer-related risk factors was essential.

Cancer Control 2019, 16 Sept