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Survey: Lack of awareness hampers cancer prevention efforts


Fear and a lack of health-related knowledge pose significant barriers to preventative cancer care access and effectiveness, recent survey data from The Harris Poll suggests.

The survey, commissioned by Bayer U.S. to identify patient behaviors and care barriers, indicates that more than one in four adults in the United States (27%) would rather not know if they have cancer, and nearly a third (31%) – particularly younger patients aged 18-44 years – avoid going to the doctor because they are afraid of what they might learn.

Similarly, 26% of 2,079 respondents said that fear and anxiety are the main reasons why they don’t make or keep doctor appointments. Those with lower household income and education levels, those with children under age 18 years, and Hispanic adults were most likely to cite this reason.

Almost half (up to 49%) lacked knowledge about certain cancers and risk factors.

For example, 48% of respondents were unaware that breast density affects breast cancer risk and diagnosis, and 38% said they were not very knowledgeable about breast cancer.

Regarding prostate cancer, 49% were unaware that race impacts risk and 49% said they were not knowledgeable about the disease.

The survey highlighted a lack of trust in treatments and health care processes among most adults, especially those with lower income and education levels. Overall, 53% said they have little or no trust in treatments developed by pharmaceutical companies, and 31% said they have little or no trust in medical tests, test results, and other medical processes.

The findings of the survey, which was conducted online June 6-8, 2023, among U.S. adults aged 18 years and older, underscore the need to better educate individuals about cancer risk factors and the benefits of preventative care.

“The increase of fear and anxiety, heightened by a lack of education and in some cases trust barriers, creates an environment where people may not access basic preventative care to ensure early diagnosis,” Sebastian Guth, president of Bayer U.S. and Pharmaceuticals North America, stated in a press release. “This is compounded by the fact that around 27.4 million people of all ages (8.3%) don’t have access to health insurance.

“Companies like Bayer have a responsibility to provide resources that increase health education on the importance of understanding disease risks, early disease screenings, and preventative health care,” Mr. Guth added, noting that the company is partnering with multiple patient advocacy groups to increase trust, awareness, and knowledge “to help individuals understand the resources available to them and their risks for a specific disease.”

Public health initiatives have had mixed results with respect to changing patient behaviors over time, but Breast Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM) in October of each year is a stand-out initiative that could serve as a model for other patient education initiatives, according to a 2022 study.

The Google trends analysis showed that from 2012 to 2021, BCAM was associated with improved public awareness of breast cancer, whereas Lung Cancer Awareness Month and Prostate Cancer Awareness Month had no impact on lung and prostate cancer awareness, respectively, over time, reported Yoshita Nishimura, MD, of Okayama University Graduate School of Medicine, Dentistry, and Pharmaceutical Sciences in Japan, and Jared D. Acoba, MD, of the University of Hawaii, Honolulu.

Dr. Nishimura and Dr. Acoba concluded that the success of BCAM, which was launched in 1985 and is now led by the National Breast Cancer Foundation, is likely a result of “the effective involvement of non-medical industries, influencers affected by breast cancer, and an awareness symbol.”

As for the role of physicians in raising awareness and increasing knowledge at the patient level, various guidelines focus on assessing patient needs and readiness to learn, communicating clearly, and identifying barriers, such as a lack of support and low health literacy.

An American Society of Clinical Oncology consensus guideline for physician-patient communication, for example, provides guidance on core communication skills that apply across the continuum of care, as well as specific topics to address, such as patient goals, treatment options, and support systems – all with an eye toward using “effective communication to optimize the patient-clinician relationship, patient and clinician well-being and family well-being.”

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