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Prev Med. 2009 Feb;48(2):197-202. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2008.11.008. Epub 2008 Nov 25.

Comparison of risk perceptions and beliefs across common chronic diseases.

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  • 1Fox Chase Cancer Center, Philadelphia, PA, USA.



Few studies have compared perceptions of risk, worry, severity and control across multiple diseases. This paper examines how these perceptions vary for heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and colon, breast, and ovarian cancers.


The data for this study came from the Family Healthware Impact Trial (FHITr), conducted in the United States from 2005 to 2007. Healthy adults (N=2362) from primary care practices recorded their perceptions at baseline for each disease. Analyses were conducted controlling for study site and personal risk factors.


Perceived risk was significantly higher for cancers than for other diseases. Men worried most about getting heart disease; women worried most about getting breast cancer, followed by heart disease. Diabetes was perceived to be the least severe condition. Heart disease was perceived to be the most controllable compared to cancers, which were perceived to be the least controllable. Women had higher perceived risk and worry ratings compared to men for several diseases.


These data highlight how individuals comparatively view chronic diseases. Addressing prior disease perceptions when communicating multiple disease risks may facilitate an accurate understanding of risk for diseases, and help individuals to effectively identify and engage in relevant behaviors to reduce their risk.

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