Misconceptions about cancer among Latinos and Anglos

JAMA. 1992 Dec 9;268(22):3219-23. doi: 10.1001/jama.1992.03490220063029.


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.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Hispanic Americans
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Neoplasms / ethnology*
  • United States