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Misconceptions about cancer screening may be common among women

Women's misconceptions about cancer screening may be common and possibly go unrecognized in clinical settings, having a profound influence on the medical decisions women make according to a study supported in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS10856). Identifying and correcting misconceptions could improve cancer screening rates among women and help them make more informed decisions, suggest the researchers.

In interviews with 24 socioeconomically diverse white, black, Latino, and Chinese women aged 50 years and older, researchers found several misconceptions about cancer screening characterized by inaccuracies, distortions, and over-simplification. All women had been recruited from community general medicine practices and had access to cancer screening through Medicare or private insurance. Many women believed that screening was indicated only with symptoms or a family history of cancer. In addition, many felt that the only purpose of screening was to find cancer, suggesting that they did not understand the important role of screening to detect cells in the pre-malignant phase.

For many women, preventing cancer meant preventing death from cancer rather than preventing the development of cancer. Women also often held pessimistic beliefs—for example, that cancer was always found too late, was a death sentence, or that it always caused physical pain and suffering. Finally, many women had non-scientific, vague notions that cancer screening was intended for overall health benefits rather than specifically for cancer prevention.

See "Women's misconceptions about cancer screening: Implications for informed decision-making," by Thomas D. Denberg, M.D., Ph.D., Sabrina Wong, Ph.D., R.N., and Angela Beattie, Ph.D., in the June 2005 Patient Education and Counseling 57, pp. 280-285.

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