Perceptions of cancer as a death sentence: prevalence and consequences

J Health Psychol. 2014 Dec;19(12):1518-24. doi: 10.1177/1359105313494924. Epub 2013 Jul 17.


Research suggests that perceiving cancer as a death sentence is a critical determinant of health care-seeking behaviors. However, there is limited information regarding the prevalence of this perception in the US population. Cross-sectional analysis of data (n = 7674 adults) from the 2007-2008 administration of the nationally representative Health Information National Trends Survey (HINTS 3) was performed. A majority (61.6%) of respondents perceived cancer as death sentence, and more than one-third (36%) of respondents reported that they avoid seeing their physicians. In the adult US population, perceiving cancer as a death sentence is common and is associated with education level and avoidance of physicians.

Keywords: cancer; health behavior; health psychology; perception; public health psychology.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attitude to Death*
  • Educational Status
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / psychology*
  • Prevalence
  • Sex Factors
  • Young Adult