Cancer Risk Factor Knowledge Among Young Adults

J Cancer Educ. 2017 Dec;32(4):865-870. doi: 10.1007/s13187-016-1093-3.


Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the USA. Incidence and mortality rates for cancer have risen steadily and cost the healthcare system over $264 billion annually. Cancer risk can be reduced by restricting alcohol consumption, avoiding tobacco, eating a balanced diet, limiting sun exposure, exercising, and seeking routine cancer screenings. The purpose of this study is to examine cancer risk factor knowledge among college students. Researchers surveyed undergraduate and graduate students (n = 758) at a mid-sized public university in the Southeast about their knowledge regarding cancer risk factors including smoking, alcohol consumption, diet, obesity, hypertension, and human papillomavirus (HPV). Participants were mostly able to identify the association between cancers and health risk behaviors that have received widespread media coverage, are somewhat intuitive, or are salient to their life stage such as drinking, tanning, and smoking. Nearly all participants correctly reported exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays, and smoking increased risk of developing skin and lung cancer, respectively. Most students correctly identified an increased risk of liver cancer associated with alcohol use but missed head/neck and breast cancer. However, knowledge of less publicized relationships was insufficient. The findings offer encouragement to public health professionals that campaigns have increased awareness of cancer risk. However, there were many relationships that revealed a lack of knowledge, and future campaigns can target lesser-known cancer risk relationships to reduce the personal tragedy and societal burden of cancer.

Keywords: Cancer; College students; Knowledge; Risk factors.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects
  • Awareness*
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Obesity
  • Papillomavirus Infections / complications
  • Risk Factors
  • Smoking / adverse effects
  • Southeastern United States
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Ultraviolet Rays / adverse effects
  • Universities
  • Young Adult