“I don’t know” My Cancer Risk: Implications for Health Behavior Engagement

Erika A. Waters, Marc T. Kiviniemi, Heather Orom, Jennifer L. Hay

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


Background: Many people report uncertainty about their cancer risk. We examined whether such uncertainty was related to cancer prevention and detection behaviors. Methods: National Health Interview Survey data from 2005 to 2010 were analyzed. Participants reported their perceived risk for colorectal and breast cancers. Responses were coded as “valid” (i.e., less/as/more likely than average) or “don’t know.” Results: In bivariate analyses for both cancer sites and survey years, “don’t know” responders (DKR) engaged in less physical activity than “valid” responders (p < 0.05). DKR had lower mammography adherence than “valid” responders in 2005 and lower colorectal screening adherence in 2010 (p < 0.05). DKR had marginally lower colorectal screening adherence and fruit/vegetable consumption in 2005 (p < 0.06). Multivariable models indicated that the DKR–behavior relationship could be largely accounted for by education. Conclusion: Interventions that help people understand their cancer risk may provide particular benefit to people with low education and might consequently reduce health disparities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)784-788
Number of pages5
JournalAnnals of Behavioral Medicine
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016, The Society of Behavioral Medicine.


  • Breast cancer
  • Colon cancer
  • Health disparities
  • Risk perception

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology (all)
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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