Understanding the determinants of perceived risk for colorectal cancer
Perceived risk of disease plays a key role in health behaviours, making it an important issue for cancer preventive behaviour research. This paper describes two studies using complimentary methodologies to investigate the determinants of perceived risk of developing colorectal cancer (CRC).
Methods and Findings
In Study 1, questionnaires were mailed to a sample of 1056 adults aged 45-65 registered with one of two General Practices. The questionnaires assessed risk factors for colorectal cancer and perceived risk of colorectal cancer and asked respondents to explain why they had rated their risk as they had. Consistent with previous studies, risk factors for CRC were significantly correlated with perceived risk although associations were relatively weak. The most frequently cited reasons for risk judgments were diet, family history and symptoms/general health. Not surprisingly, correlations between each risk factor and perceived risk were stronger among participants who had attributed their risk to that factor, but a good deal of variance remained unexplained. Study 2 used semi-structured interviews to explore individuals’ explanations for their perceived risk of colorectal cancer. Adults (n=18) aged 60-63, volunteered a variety of explanations consistent with the survey findings, but thematic analysis suggested their personal experiences of cancer were most salient to their risk estimates.
These studies indicate that the ‘analytic’ attributions people make for their risk judgments are important in understanding how they conceptualize risk, but appreciation of experiential and affective influences may be useful in fully understanding perceptions of risk.