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Epidemiol Rev. 2011;33:135-47. doi: 10.1093/epirev/mxq018. Epub 2011 May 17.

Psychosocial determinants of socioeconomic inequalities in cancer screening participation: a conceptual framework.

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  • 1Health Behaviour Research Centre, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, 1-19 Torrington Place, London, WC1E 6BT, United Kingdom.


Cancer screening participation shows a strong, graded association with socioeconomic status (SES) not only in countries such as the United States, where insurance status can be a barrier for lower income groups, but also in the United Kingdom, where the National Health Service provides all health care to residents, including screening, for free. Traditionally, the literature on socioeconomic inequalities has focused on upstream factors, but more proximal (downstream) influences on screening participation also need to be examined, particularly those that address the graded nature of the association rather than focusing specifically on underserved groups. This review offers a framework that links some of the components and corollaries of SES (life stress, educational opportunities, illness experience) to known psychosocial determinants of screening uptake (beliefs about the value of early detection, fatalistic beliefs about cancer, self-efficacy). The aim is to explain why individuals from lower SES backgrounds perceive cancer screening tests as more threatening, more difficult to accomplish, and less beneficial. A better understanding of the mechanisms through which lower SES causes negative attitudes toward screening could facilitate the development of intervention strategies to reduce screening inequalities.

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