Methods: A survey of oncology center employees was conducted to determine those factors associated with perceived risk of cancer and compliance with preventive care guidelines. Five hundred six employees participated in the survey.
Results: The average perceived absolute risk of developing cancer in the next 20 years was 29%. Perceived risk for cancer was higher among women than men. Among men, only current smoking and duration of employment, adjusting for age, were significantly associated with the perceived risk of developing cancer. For women, in addition to smoking, personal experience with cancer among family and friends and perceived health status were significantly associated with the perceived risk of cancer. The practice of cancer preventive behaviors was unrelated to personal risk perception. Less than one-fourth of participants age 40 years and older had a sigmoidoscopy in the last 3 years and less than one-third reported having had their stool checked for blood. The majority of women had a pap smear in the past 10 years; 89% had a pap smear in the past 3 years. Eighty-eight percent of women over 40 and 94% of women over 50 had ever had a mammogram; the majority of these women had had mammograms in the past two years.
Conclusion: Perceived risk of developing cancer was significantly higher than in projected probabilities based on the incidence of cancer in the United States. Despite the high perceived risk of developing cancer, the practice of colon cancer screening was low. Factors other than perception of personal risk of cancer may be important in encouraging participation in screening programs.