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Psychooncology. 2015 Mar;24(3):279-86. doi: 10.1002/pon.3593. Epub 2014 Jun 11.

Cognitive and affective influences on perceived risk of ovarian cancer.

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Epidemiology and Applied Research Branch, Division of Cancer Prevention and Control, CDC, Atlanta, GA, USA.



Studies suggest that both affective and cognitive processes are involved in the perception of vulnerability to cancer and that affect has an early influence in this assessment of risk. We constructed a path model based on a conceptual framework of heuristic reasoning (affect, resemblance, and availability) coupled with cognitive processes involved in developing personal models of cancer causation.


From an eligible cohort of 16 700 women in a managed care organization, we randomly selected 2524 women at high, elevated, and average risk of ovarian cancer and administered a questionnaire to test our model (response rate 76.3%). Path analysis delineated the relationships between personal and cognitive characteristics (number of relatives with cancer, age, ideas about cancer causation, perceived resemblance to an affected friend or relative, and ovarian cancer knowledge) and emotional constructs (closeness to an affected relative or friend, time spent processing the cancer experience, and cancer worry) on perceived risk of ovarian cancer.


Our final model fit the data well (root mean square error of approximation (RMSEA) = 0.028, comparative fit index (CFI) = 0.99, normed fit index (NFI) = 0.98). This final model (1) demonstrated the nature and direction of relationships between cognitive characteristics and perceived risk; (2) showed that time spent processing the cancer experience was associated with cancer worry; and (3) showed that cancer worry moderately influenced perceived risk.


Our results highlight the important role that family cancer experience has on cancer worry and shows how cancer experience translates into personal risk perceptions. This understanding informs the discordance between medical or objective risk assessment and personal risk assessment. Published in 2014. This article is a U.S. Government work and is in the public domain in the USA.


Cancer; Oncology; Path analysis; Risk perception; ovarian cancer

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