Perceived cancer risk and risk attributions among African-American residents of a low-income, predominantly African-American neighborhood

Heather Orom, Karen E. O'Quin, Sarah Reilly, Marc T. Kiviniemi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Objective. In some national surveys, African-Americans have had lower scores on perceived cancer risk items than whites. Our goals were to confirm low perceptions of cancer risk in an African-American community sample and explore participants' attributions for their perceived cancer risk.Design. Data were from three cross-sectional surveys. We report levels of perceived absolute and comparative cancer risk in a community sample of African-Americans (N = 88), and African-Americans (Ns = 655, 428) and whites (Ns = 5262, 1679) from two nationally representative Health Information National Trends Surveys (HINTS). We analyzed the content of spontaneously-provided explanations for perceived risk from the community sample.Results. Perceived absolute and comparative cancer risk were lower in the community and national samples of African-Americans than in the national sample of whites. Participants' spontaneous attributions for low or lower than average risk included not having family history or behavioral risk factors, classes of attributions noted elsewhere in the literature. However, participants also explained that they wanted to avoid wishing cancer on themselves (positive affirmations) and hoped their risk was low (wishful thinking), responses rarely reported for majority-white samples.Conclusions. Results provide further evidence that cancer risk perceptions are lower among African-Americans than whites. Some participant explanations for low perceived risk (wishful thinking, affirmations) are inconsistent with behavioral scientists' assumptions about perceived risk questions. Results reveal a need to expand cancer risk attribution typologies to increase applicability to diverse populations, and may indicate that perceived cancer risk questions have lower validity in African-American populations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)543-556
Number of pages14
JournalEthnicity and Health
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 © 2014 Taylor & Francis.


  • African-American
  • cancer
  • race
  • risk attribution
  • risk perception

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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