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, 17 (1), 977

Responses to Provision of Personalised Cancer Risk Information: A Qualitative Interview Study With Members of the Public


Responses to Provision of Personalised Cancer Risk Information: A Qualitative Interview Study With Members of the Public

Juliet A Usher-Smith et al. BMC Public Health.


Background: It is estimated that nearly 600,000 cancer cases in the UK could have been avoided in the past five years if people had healthier lifestyles. A number of theories of behaviour change suggest that before people will change health behaviours, they must accept that a risk applies to them. This study aimed to explore the views of the public on receiving personalised cancer risk information and the potential for that information to motivate behaviour change.

Methods: We conducted 27 interviews with members of the public (mean age 49 ± 23 years). Each participant completed a questionnaire to allow calculation of their risk of developing the most common cancers (10 for women, 8 for men). During the interviews we presented their risk using a web-based tool developed for the study and discussions covered their views on receiving that information. Each interview was audio-recorded and then analysed using thematic analysis.

Results: Participants generally viewed the concept of personalised cancer risk positively. The first reaction of almost all when presented with their 10-year risk of an individual cancer without any further context was that it was low and not concerning. Views on what constituted a high risk ranged widely, from 0.5 to 60%. All felt seeing the impact of changes in lifestyle was helpful. For some this led to intentions to change behaviour, but reductions in risk were not always motivating as the risks were considered low and differences small.

Conclusions: Provision of personalised cancer risk was well received and may be a useful addition to other cancer prevention initiatives. Further work is needed in particular to develop ways to present cancer risk that reflect the general perception of what constitutes a risk high enough to motivate behaviour change and help patients contextualise a less well known health risk by providing a frame of reference.

Keywords: Cancer; Communication; Prevention; Qualitative research; Risk.

Conflict of interest statement

Ethics approval and consent to participate

This study obtained ethical approval from the East of England Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire Research Ethics Committee (reference number 15/EE/0310). All participants signed a consent form before taking part. All interviews were tape-recorded and transcribed with permission of participants outlined in the consent process.

Consent for publication

Not applicable.

Competing interests

None of the authors have any competing interests.

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.


Fig. 1
Fig. 1
Formats of risk presention. a) absolute 10-year percentage risk on a vertical thermometer scale in grey-scale; b) absolute 10-year percentage risk on a vertical thermometer scale coloured from green to red; c) absolute 10-year percentage risk as a coloured bar chart; d) relative 10-year risk on a qualitative scale from low to high; e) options to see the impact of changes to lifestyle on risk provided alongside each risk format

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