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Infect Agent Cancer. 2009 Feb 10;4 Suppl 1:S15. doi: 10.1186/1750-9378-4-S1-S15.

Comparison of knowledge and attitudes toward cancer among African Americans.

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  • 1Department of Epidemiology, University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, Pittsburgh, PA, USA. thurmann@upmc.edu



It has been noted that the African American population in the U.S. bears disproportionately higher cancer morbidity and mortality rates than any racial and ethnic group for most major cancers. Many studies also document that decreased longevity is associated with low educational attainment and other markers of low socioeconomic status (SES), both of which are prevalent in African American communities across the nation. Evidence suggests that this phenomenon may be due to attitudes that reflect a lack of knowledge surrounding facts about cancer awareness and prevention. This study was designed to yield data concerning the general population's attitudes toward cancer, taking into consideration racial and/or socioeconomic differences in the population studied.


Two hundred and fifteen subjects participated in the survey, of which 74% (159/215) defined themselves as African-American, 20% were White, and 6% were of other races. While only 38% of the study population was able to identify at least 5 risk factors associated with cancer, a lower proportion of African Americans identified at least 5 risk factors than whites (34% vs. 53%, p = 0.03). In addition, a slightly higher percentage of African Americans (10%) were not aware of the definition of a clinical trial when compared to whites (8%, p > 0.1). Of those aware of the definition of a clinical trial, African Americans were more reluctant to participate in clinical trials, with 53% answering no to participation compared to 15% of whites (p = 0.002).


When comparing results to a similar study conducted in 1981, a slight increase in cancer knowledge in the African American population was observed. Our results suggest that while knowledge of cancer facts has increased over the years amongst the general population, African Americans and lower income populations are still behind. This may affect their risk profile and cancer early detection.

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