Objective: To collect information regarding knowledge about and attitudes toward cancer in a sample of adult health plan members, self-identified as Latino or Anglo.
Design: Cross-sectional survey.
Setting: Prepaid health plan.
Respondents: A random sample of 844 Latinos (mean age, 50.5 years) and 510 Anglos (51.8 years) completed the interview.
Main outcome measures and results: Latinos were significantly more likely than Anglos to think that sugar substitutes (58% vs 42%), bruises from being hit (53% vs 34%), microwave ovens (47% vs 23%), eating pork (31% vs 11%), eating spicy foods (15% vs 8%), breast-feeding (14% vs 6%), and antibiotics (32% vs 12%) could cause cancer (P < .001 for each). Compared with Anglos, Latinos more often misidentified constant dizziness (39% vs 25%) and arthralgias (35% vs 20%) as being symptoms of cancer. A higher proportion of Latinos believed that having cancer is like getting a death sentence (46% vs 26%), that cancer is God's punishment (7% vs 2%), that there is very little one can do to prevent getting cancer (26% vs 18%), that it is uncomfortable to touch someone with cancer (13% vs 8%), and that they would rather not know if they had incurable cancer (35% vs 23%; P < .001 for each). Latino ethnicity was a significant predictor of these knowledge and attitude items in multivariate logistic regression models adjusted for sex, education, age, employment, marital status, county of residence, and self-perceived health status.
Conclusions: We conclude that misconceptions about cancer are more prevalent among Latinos than Anglos and that selected attitudes about cancer among Latinos fit a cultural theme of fatalismo. These data can enable development of culturally appropriate cancer control interventions for Latinos.