Women's Awareness of Cancer Risk Linked to Race, Ethnicity

TUESDAY April 15, 2008 -- Racial and ethnic variations in how women perceive their cancer risk may influence how likely they are to get screened for cancer, particularly colon cancer, says a University of California, San Francisco study.

The researchers interviewed 1,160 women, ages 50 to 80, about breast, cervical and colon cancer. The women's perceived personal risk for each type of cancer was measured on a word scale ("no risk" to "very high risk") and compared with self-reported cancer screening behavior.

There were 338 white women (29 percent), 167 black women (14 percent), 239 Hispanic women (21 percent) and 416 Asian women (36 percent) in the study. The researchers found that perceived risk for each cancer varied by ethnicity.

Asian women had the lowest perceived risk for breast, cervical and colon cancers and Hispanic women had the highest perceived risk.

"This perceived risk was associated with obtaining self-reported cancer screening tests after other factors were accounted for," the study authors wrote.

Almost half the women (572) reported either a personal or family history of cancer, and this type of history was associated with higher perceived risk for breast and colon cancer. Compared to those with no history of cancer, women with a family history of the disease were almost twice as likely to have had a colonoscopy to screen for colon cancer.

"Evaluation of perceived risk of cancer may be useful to clinicians who are recommending screening tests and incorporating an intervention to help diverse populations understand risk and interpret medical data," the researchers concluded.

The study was published in the April 14 issue of the journal Archives of Internal Medicine.

According to background information in the study, a woman's risk of developing and dying from cancer varies by race and ethnicity. For example, black women are most likely to develop colon cancer and to die from breast or cervical cancer, while Hispanic women are at increased risk to develop and die from cervical cancer but less likely to develop breast or colon cancer.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about women and cancer.

Posted: April 2008


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