Cancer detection: how effective is public education?

Cancer Nurs. 1996 Apr;19(2):98-103. doi: 10.1097/00002820-199604000-00003.


The American Cancer Society has been educating the public about cancer detection methods since 1922. Originally, only two warning signs were published; however, for more than 40 years, there have been seven cancer warning signs. In an attempt to evaluate the public knowledge of cancer detection and prevention, this pilot study examined the attitudes, knowledge and behaviors of 172 laypersons. The instrument used consisted of four sections and was designed by the investigator and the graduate nursing research class. The first section contained 30 questions about the individual, health practices, and risk status in a forced-choice format. Ability to identify the seven cancer warning signals was the second section. Attitudes toward Cancer Detection methods were evaluated in a semantic differential format as the third section. The list section contained 24 Likert-formatted statements of beliefs about the importance of cancer detection. Before data analysis, a Cronbach's alpha was obtained on each scale and ranged from 0.8031 to 0.8897. Eighty nine (52%) of the respondents were women and 83 (48%) were men. The sample was 85% white, 11% African-American, and 4% other ethnic groups. Ninety-four percent of the population had some form of health insurance. Gender was not significantly related to scores on the Attitudes toward Cancer Detection or the Beliefs about Cancer Scale. Race was significantly related to scores on the Attitudes toward Cancer Detection Scale. Nineteen percent of the sample could not identify any of the cancer warning signs. The median number of warning signs correctly identified as warning signals was three. Thirty-two items were incorrectly listed as warning signs. Survival of cancer is linked with early detection. The inability to influence changes in knowledge and practices over the past 50 years is examined. Implications for nurses and teaching related to cancer warning signs are explored.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Factor Analysis, Statistical
  • Female
  • Health Education*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Pilot Projects
  • Regression Analysis
  • Self-Examination