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Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2007 May;16(5):998-1003.

Fatalistic beliefs about cancer prevention and three prevention behaviors.

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Department of Population Health, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI 53726-2397, USA.



A substantial proportion of US adults hold fatalistic beliefs about cancer prevention. Although evidence suggests that fatalistic beliefs discourage people from engaging in screening behaviors that can reduce their cancer risk, far less is known about associations between cancer fatalism and other prevention behaviors. We examined sociodemographic correlates of these beliefs and their associations with regular exercise, smoking, and fruit and vegetable consumption with a national sample of American adults.


Data were analyzed from the first wave of the Health Information National Trends Survey (HINTS 2003). HINTS used random-digit dialing to complete phone interviews with adult Americans (N = 6,369).


Nearly half of respondents (47.1%) agreed that "It seems like almost everything causes cancer," 27.0% agreed that "There's not much people can do to lower their chances of getting cancer," and 71.5% agreed that "There are so many recommendations about preventing cancer, it's hard to know which ones to follow." These beliefs were stronger in subjects who were less educated but generally weaker among both African Americans and Hispanics relative to Whites. Fatalistic beliefs about cancer prevention were negatively associated with exercising weekly, not smoking, and eating five or more fruits and vegetables daily in multivariate analysis controlling for sociodemographic characteristics.


Americans who hold fatalistic beliefs about cancer prevention may be at greater risk of cancer because they are less likely to engage in various prevention behaviors. Results have notable implications for future cancer communication and education efforts.

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