Limitations in American adults’ awareness of and beliefs about alcohol as a risk factor for cancer

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Alcohol is a carcinogen. Recommendations to reduce alcohol use to lower cancer risk are increasingly common. However, neither the beliefs of US adults about alcohol consumption and cancer risk, nor factors influencing those beliefs, are well understood. We used data from the 2019 Health Information National Trends Survey (analysis N = 4,470) to examine beliefs about whether drinking too much alcohol increases cancer risk. We compared those beliefs to beliefs for three other health problems, and examined whether believing alcohol is a cancer risk factor was related to demographics, risk perceptions, other beliefs about the nature of cancer, and alcohol consumption behavior. Only 33% of US adults reported believing that alcohol is a cancer risk factor; 27% stated that it was not, and the highest proportion (40%) reported they did not know. Misbeliefs and lack of knowledge about alcohol and health outcomes were higher for cancer than other outcomes. Higher age, education, seeking health information, risk perceptions, and pessimistic beliefs about cancer predicted both lack of knowledge and misbeliefs about alcohol use and cancer. However, misbeliefs and lack of knowledge were not limited to those who reported alcohol consumption. Demographic and psychosocial factors are associated with problematic beliefs about alcohol's role as a risk factor for cancer. Because perceived risk for health problems is a driver of behavior change, cancer prevention and control efforts to reduce alcohol consumption must attend to and address both the misperceptions about and lack of knowledge of alcohol's role in increasing risk for cancer.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101433
JournalPreventive Medicine Reports
StatePublished - Sep 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Author(s)


  • Alcohol use
  • Beliefs about risk
  • Cancer risk perception
  • Mental models
  • Uncertainty

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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