Avoiding cancer risk information

Amber S. Emanuel, Marc T. Kiviniemi, Jennifer L. Howell, Jennifer L. Hay, Erika A. Waters, Heather Orom, James A. Shepperd

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

81 Scopus citations


Rationale: Perceived risk for health problems such as cancer is a central construct in many models of health decision making and a target for behavior change interventions. However, some portion of the population actively avoids cancer risk information. The prevalence of, explanations for, and consequences of such avoidance are not well understood. Objective: We examined the prevalence and demographic and psychosocial correlates of cancer risk information avoidance preference in a nationally representative sample. We also examined whether avoidance of cancer risk information corresponds with avoidance of cancer screening. Results: Based on our representative sample, 39% of the population indicated that they agreed or strongly agreed that they would "rather not know [their] chance of getting cancer." This preference was stronger among older participants, female participants, and participants with lower levels of education. Preferring to avoid cancer risk information was stronger among participants who agreed with the beliefs that everything causes cancer, that there's not much one can do to prevent cancer, and that there are too many recommendations to follow. Finally, the preference to avoid cancer risk information was associated with lower levels of screening for colon cancer. Conclusion: These findings suggest that cancer risk information avoidance is a multi-determined phenomenon that is associated with demographic characteristics and psychosocial individual differences and also relates to engagement in cancer screening.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)113-120
Number of pages8
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
StatePublished - Dec 1 2015

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This project was supported by funding from the Southeast Center for Research to Reduce Disparities in Oral Health 1U54DEO19261-01 to Amber S. Emanuel, by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship DGE-0802270 awarded to Jenny L Howell, by grants from the Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation and American Cancer Society ( MRSG-11-214-01-CPPB ) awarded to Erika A. Waters, an Intergovernmental Personnel Act fellowship from the National Cancer Institute to James A. Shepperd, and a grant from the National Institute of Health R03CA17777501A1 awarded Erika A. Waters, Jennifer L. Hay, Marc T. Kiviniemi, and Heather Orom.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015.


  • Cancer risk
  • Cancer screening
  • Information avoidance
  • Risk perception

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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