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BMC Cancer. 2017 Aug 17;17(1):550. doi: 10.1186/s12885-017-3540-x.

Identification of cancer risk and associated behaviour: implications for social marketing campaigns for cancer prevention.

Author information

School of Rural Health, Monash University, PO Box 666, Bendigo, VIC, 3552, Australia.
School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Newcastle, University Drive, Callaghan, NSW, 2308, Australia.
School of Rural Health, Monash University, PO Box 666, Bendigo, VIC, 3552, Australia.
School of Health and Related Research, University of Sheffield, Regent Court, 30 Regent Street, Sheffield, S1 4DA, UK.
Cancer Council New South Wales, PO Box 572, Kings Cross, Sydney, NSW, 1340, Australia.



Community misconception of what causes cancer is an important consideration when devising communication strategies around cancer prevention, while those initiating social marketing campaigns must decide whether to target the general population or to tailor messages for different audiences. This paper investigates the relationships between demographic characteristics, identification of selected cancer risk factors, and associated protective behaviours, to inform audience segmentation for cancer prevention social marketing.


Data for this cross-sectional study (n = 3301) are derived from Cancer Council New South Wales' 2013 Cancer Prevention Survey. Descriptive statistics and logistic regression models were used to investigate the relationship between respondent demographic characteristics and identification of each of seven cancer risk factors; demographic characteristics and practice of the seven 'protective' behaviours associated with the seven cancer risk factors; and identification of cancer risk factors and practising the associated protective behaviours, controlling for demographic characteristics.


More than 90% of respondents across demographic groups identified sun exposure and smoking cigarettes as moderate or large cancer risk factors. Around 80% identified passive smoking as a moderate/large risk factor, and 40-60% identified being overweight or obese, drinking alcohol, not eating enough vegetables and not eating enough fruit. Women and older respondents were more likely to identify most cancer risk factors as moderate/large, and to practise associated protective behaviours. Education was correlated with identification of smoking as a moderate/large cancer risk factor, and with four of the seven protective behaviours. Location (metropolitan/regional) and country of birth (Australia/other) were weak predictors of identification and of protective behaviours. Identification of a cancer risk factor as moderate/large was a significant predictor for five out of seven associated cancer-protective behaviours, controlling for demographic characteristics.


These findings suggest a role for both audience segmentation and whole-of-population approaches in cancer-prevention social marketing campaigns. Targeted campaigns can address beliefs of younger people and men about cancer risk factors. Traditional population campaigns can enhance awareness of being overweight, alcohol consumption, and poor vegetable and fruit intake as cancer risk factors.


Cancer; Risk factors; Social marketing

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