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Minority patients discouraged from cancer screening by negative messages

PHILADELPHIA New behavioral science research published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research, found that constantly emphasizing the negative consequences of a lack of cancer screening among minorities can actually make them less likely to go for screening.

"We have typically assumed that one of the best ways to motivate individuals is to point out disparities in health, but we may be having negative unintended consequences," said Robert Nicholson, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Neurology and Psychiatry at the St. Louis University School of Public Health. "Instead of motivating people who would be less likely to get these services in the first place, we may be driving them away."

Minority communities have been historically underserved by cutting edge medical efforts, and leaders in cancer and other health groups have tried to increase awareness and compliance with known prevention and treatment strategies. However, whether this communication was effective was not known.

Nicholson and colleagues conducted a double-blind, randomized trial among 300 African-American adults. The adults were asked to read one of four articles about colon cancer and then answer questions about their likelihood of getting screened.

The first article emphasized that colon cancer was an important problem for African-Americans. The second emphasized that outcomes for blacks with colon cancer were worse than for whites, while a third said that although outcomes for African-Americans were improving the improvement was less than seen among whites. Finally, a fourth article discussed how outcomes for blacks with colon cancer were improving over time.

If African-Americans read the article that said outcomes for blacks were improving over time, they were more likely to have a positive emotional response than if they read any of the other three articles. The article most likely to cause a negative response was the one that simply stated the problem.

Similarly, those that read the article about African-Americans making progress in outcomes for colon cancer were far more likely to want to be screened than those who read any of the other three articles.

The mean age of the participants was 54.4 years, 76 percent were women and 89 percent had completed high school. Comprehension analysis found that all participants understood what they had read.

Nicholson said they did not ask questions about motivation, but he suggests that a general mistrust of the medical community may be playing a role. If information reinforces that mistrust, then African-Americans are less likely to be screened.

"We believe that a positive message would go a long way toward overcoming mistrust," Nicholson said. "We need the right kind of message for the right kind of person, and not to assume that what we have always done is working."


Contact: Jeremy Moore
American Association for Cancer Research

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