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PLoS One. 2018 Jun 11;13(6):e0198992. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0198992. eCollection 2018.

The relationship between low perceived numeracy and cancer knowledge, beliefs, and affect.

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Department of Epidemiology, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, United States of America.
School of Nursing and Health Studies, University of Miami, Coral Gables, Florida, United States of America.
Department of Geography and Regional Studies, University of Miami, Coral Gables, Florida, United States of America.
Department of Public Health Sciences, Miller School of Medicine, University of Miami, Miami, Florida, United States of America.
Department of Communication Studies, University of Miami, Coral Gables, Florida, United States of America.


Low numeracy may skew patient perceptions of information about cancer. This paper examines the relationship between self-reported measures of perceived numeracy and cancer knowledge, beliefs, and affect, using results from 3,052 respondents to the 2007 Health Information National Trends Survey (HINTS-3). Chi-squared tests were used to identify differences in responses between high- and low-numeracy groups using three measures of perceived numeracy. Multivariable logistic regression models were used to evaluate the association between the three perceived numeracy measures and cancer information overload, cancer fatalism, cancer prevention knowledge, and cancer worry. Respondents with low perceived numeracy as expressed by discomfort with medical statistics were more likely to report information overload, to display fatalistic attitudes towards cancer, to lack knowledge about cancer prevention, and to indicate that they worried about cancer more frequently. After controlling for sociodemographic characteristics, this measure of perceived numeracy remained significantly associated with information overload, fatalism, lower prevention knowledge, and worry. The other measures of perceived numeracy, which measured understanding and use of health statistics, were not associated with cancer perceptions. Our findings suggest that individuals with low perceived numeracy broadly differ from individuals with high perceived numeracy in their perceptions of cancer and cancer prevention. By improving our understanding of how perceived numeracy affects patient perceptions of cancer, health providers can improve educational strategies and targeted health messaging.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

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