The first international public survey on cancer perceptions and attitudes in a decade shows that, in spite of progress, low socioeconomic status and lack of education continue to jeopardize the health of the world’s most vulnerable populations.
The survey was commissioned by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) to mark the 20th anniversary of World Cancer Day on Feb. 4, 2020.
The survey, which was conducted by Ipsos, was taken by more than 15,000 people in 20 countries. It shows that people of lower socioeconomic status are less likely than those in higher-income households to recognize the risk factors for cancer or to make lifestyle changes. With the exception of tobacco use, people with low educational attainment also showed less cancer awareness and were less likely to engage in preventive behaviors than those with a university degree.
It is “unacceptable that millions of people have a greater chance of developing cancer in their lifetime because they are simply not aware of the cancer risks to avoid and the healthy behaviors to adopt – information that many of us take for granted. And this is true around the world,” Cary Adams, MBA, CEO of the UICC, commented in a statement.
The survey was conducted from Oct. 25 to Nov., 2019, and included 15,427 participants from Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Great Britain, India, Israel, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, and the United States.
The vast majority of those surveyed – 87% – said they were aware of the major risk factors for cancer, while only 6% said they were not.
The cancer risk factors that were most recognized were tobacco use (63%), ultraviolet light exposure (54%), and exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke (50%).
The cancer risks that were least recognized included being overweight (29%), a lack of exercise (28%), and exposure to certain viruses or bacteria (28%).
The difference in awareness across the social spectrum was striking. “Emerging from the survey are the apparent and glaring inequities faced by socioeconomically disadvantaged groups,” the authors said.
“Much more must be done to ensure that everyone has an equal chance to reduce their risk of preventable cancer,” commented Sonali Johnson, PhD, head of knowledge, advocacy, and policy at the UICC in Geneva, Switzerland.
“We’ve seen in the results that those surveyed with a lower education and those on lower incomes appear less aware of the main risk factors associated with cancer and thus are less likely to proactively take the steps needed to reduce their cancer risk as compared to those from a high income household or those with a university education,” Dr. Johnson said in an interview.
Does increased cancer awareness translate into behavioral change for the better? This question can only be answered by more research, the survey authors said. They reported that 7 of 10 survey respondents (69%) said they had made a behavioral change to reduce their cancer risk within the past 12 months. Most said they were eating more healthfully.
Slightly fewer than one-quarter reported that they had not taken any preventive measures in the past year.
When it comes to raising cancer awareness, World Cancer Day is “a powerful tool to remind every person that they can play a crucial role in reducing the impact of cancer,” said Dr. Johnson.