Fear of Cancer Stops Some Patients From Getting Screened

Miss Charlotte Vrinten, MSc, BA, BSc Research psychologist Cancer Research UK Health Behaviour Research Centre Department of Epidemiology and Public Health University College LondonMedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Miss Charlotte Vrinten, MSc, BA, BSc
Research psychologist
Cancer Research UK Health Behaviour Research Centre
Department of Epidemiology and Public Health
University College London

Medical Research: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Many people are afraid of getting cancer, but fear doesn’t have the same effect on everyone.  For some people, cancer fear motivates them to get checked up, for others it puts them off finding out whether they have cancer.  No-one before has worked out why fear might have such opposite effects.  We hypothesized that it might be due to how people experience fear, because some fearful people tend to worry a lot about cancer, while others feel physically uncomfortable thinking about it.  In our study, instead of using a combined measure of cancer fear as is often done, we distinguished these different aspects of fear to see whether they had different effects on people’s decisions about cancer screening.  We found that the effect of cancer fear depended on the type of fear: worriers were more likely to want to get screened for colon cancer, but those who felt uncomfortable thinking about cancer were 12% less likely to go for the test. 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 having the test.

Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Response: The screening method in our study was flexible sigmoidoscopy, which involves a direct examination of the lower part of the colon.  It is intrusive, can be embarrassing and can be uncomfortable, so some people don’t like the idea of this type of test.  In addition, 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.  These factors might put some people off, rather than motivate them to get screened.  Clinicians and public information about endoscopic screening should help people understand that it can actually prevent colon cancer, so having the test can mean they have one less cancer to feel bad about.  The main message for the general public is: There is no need to be scared, get tested and stop colon cancer before it starts.

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: Cancer fear is still very common in community samples in the UK and the US.  Over half our sample said it was their worst fear.  Worrying about cancer can impair quality of life, and feeling bad thinking about cancer can cost a person their life if it puts them off going for screening or getting medical help for symptoms.  We need to help people understand that cancer outcomes are improving and there is no need for it to be the great dread it used to be.  Learning more about the make-up of cancer fear and the nuances of its behavioural effects may help us achieve that.

Citation:

Cancer Fear: Facilitator and Deterrent to Participation in Colorectal Cancer Screening

Charlotte Vrinten, Jo Waller, Christian von Wagner, and Jane Wardle

Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev Published OnlineFirst January 29, 2015; doi:10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-14-0967

[wysija_form id=”1″]

 

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:, & Miss Charlotte Vrinten, MSc, BA, BSc (2015). Fear of Cancer Stops Some Patients From Getting Screened MedicalResearch.com