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Ann Behav Med. 2009 Jun;37(3):268-79. doi: 10.1007/s12160-009-9112-9. Epub 2009 Aug 27.

Risk perceptions among participants undergoing lung cancer screening: baseline results from the National Lung Screening Trial.

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  • 1Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School, 50 Staniford Street, 9th Floor, Boston, MA 02114, USA. epark@partners.org



Lung cancer screening could present a "teachable moment" for promoting smoking cessation and relapse prevention. Understanding the risk perceptions of older individuals who undergo screening will guide these efforts.


This paper examines National Lung Screening Trial (NLST) participants' perceptions of risk for lung cancer and other smoking-related diseases. We investigated (1) whether risk perceptions of lung cancer screening participants differed between current and former smokers and (2) which factors (sociodemographic, smoking and medical history, cognitive, emotional, and knowledge) were associated with these risk perceptions.


We analyzed baseline data collected from 630 NLST participants prior to their initial screen. Participants were older (55-74 years), heavy (minimum 30 pack years) current or former smokers. A ten-item risk perception measure was developed to assess perceived lifetime risk of lung cancer and other smoking-related diseases.


The risk perception measure had excellent internal consistency (alpha = 0.93). Former smokers had lower risk perceptions compared to current smokers. Factors independently associated with high risk perceptions among current smokers included having a personal history of a smoking-related disease, higher lifetime maximum number of cigarettes smoked daily, having lived with a smoker, high worry, high perceived severity of lung cancer and smoking-related diseases, and accurate knowledge of tenfold increased risk of lung cancer for a one pack per day smoker. Factors independently associated with high risk perceptions among former smokers included being White, past history of smoking within 30 min of waking, high worry, and accurate knowledge of tenfold increased risk of lung cancer for a one pack per day smoker.


Using a comprehensive risk perception measurement, we found that current and former smokers held different risk perceptions. Former and current smokers' smoking and medical history, race, emotional concerns, behavior change cognitions, and knowledge should be considered during a prescreening risk communication session. We highlight the theoretical and risk communication implications for former and current smokers undergoing lung cancer screening.

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