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Cancer Causes Control. 2009 Dec;20(10):1975-83. doi: 10.1007/s10552-009-9392-1.

Lay interpersonal sources for health information related to beliefs about the modifiability of cancer risk.

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Department of Society, Human Development, and Health, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA.



Causal beliefs about cancer may influence preventive behaviors and medical care. We examined the relationship between beliefs about causation for lung, colon, and skin cancer and the use of lay interpersonal sources of health information (community organizations, family, friends).


Data from a nationally representative sample of 5,119 adult respondents to the 2005 Health Information National Trends Survey were analyzed.


About 40% of respondents reported that community organizations provided them with health information, while 15% discussed health information “very frequently” with their family or friends. In multivariate models, individuals who never spoke with family or friends about health were more likely to believe that colon cancer risk is not modifiable; those provided with health information by community organizations were less likely to believe that skin cancer risk is not modifiable. Speaking with family or friends about health was also associated with endorsing the belief that skin cancer is caused by behavior or lifestyle.


These findings showed that lay interpersonal health information sources are associated with beliefs about the modifiability of colon and skin cancer risk. Future research is needed to investigate whether and how such information sources might influence decisions about engaging in preventive behaviors.

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