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Psychooncology. 2008 Oct;17(10):967-74. doi: 10.1002/pon.1306.

Beliefs about cancer causation and prevention as a function of personal and family history of cancer: a national, population-based study.

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University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY, USA.



Research suggests individuals possess multifaceted cognitive representations of various diseases. These illness representations consist of various beliefs, including causal attributions for the disease, and are believed to motivate, guide, and shape health-related behavior. As little research has examined factors associated with beliefs about cancer causation, this study examined the relationship between personal and family history of cancer and beliefs about the causes and prevention of malignant disease.


Data were obtained from 6369 adult respondents to the 2003 Health Information National Trends Survey, a national population-based survey. Information about personal and family history of cancer and beliefs regarding cancer causation and prevention was obtained.


Results showed both a personal and family history of cancer were associated with differences in beliefs about the causes of cancer. In general, a personal history of cancer was not significantly linked to causal attributions for cancer relative to those without a personal history. In contrast, a family history of cancer tended to increase the likelihood a respondent viewed a particular cause as increasing cancer risk. Thus, personal and vicarious experience with cancer had dramatically diverging influences on attributions of cancer causation, which may be due to differing self-protection motives.


Results support the belief that illness representations, in this case the causal belief component, are influenced by both personal and vicarious experience with a disease and also suggest illness representations may influence receptivity to messages and interventions designed to increase appropriate cancer risk reduction behavior.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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