Ambiguity in cancer-related recommendations among young adults: Relationships with health behaviors and psychological distress

Patient Educ Couns. 2023 Nov:116:107943. doi: 10.1016/j.pec.2023.107943. Epub 2023 Aug 16.


Background: Young adulthood represents a sensitive period in which cancer-related lifestyle behaviors (e.g., substance use, poor physical activity) are developed and sustained into adulthood, having consequences for cancer morbidity and mortality. However, cancer prevention and control (CPC) recommendations are often ambiguous and multifaceted which may increase health-compromising behaviors and psychological distress among this vulnerable young adult (YA) population.

Objective: We examined relationships between ambiguity in CPC recommendations and health behaviors and psychological distress.

Methods: YAs (n = 811, aged 18-39) without cancer were drawn from the Health Information National Trends Survey 2019 data.

Results: Regression analyses indicated that higher perceived CPC ambiguity was associated with higher health behavior recommendations not being met and higher psychological distress.

Conclusion: Focusing on elucidating CPC recommendations may reduce engagement in negative health behaviors and promote well-being. Future research may benefit from developing effective communication strategies aimed at elucidating health behavior recommendations to help educate this YA population.

Practical value: Health care providers should be more aware of, and ready to address the potential ambiguity surrounding CPC recommendations and what that means for engagement in health-promoting and health-compromising behaviors and for psychological well-being.

Keywords: Ambiguity; Cancer prevention and control; Health behaviors; Psychological distress; Young adults.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Exercise
  • Health Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms* / psychology
  • Stress, Psychological
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult