Fear Affects Cancer Screening Decisions
Research suggests that fear plays a major role in deciding whether to get tested for cancer.
Kelly Ackerson, PhD, of Western Michigan University and colleagues used decision theory from economics and psychology to investigate why some women do not seek screening for breast and cervical cancer.
The researchers state, “Mammography and cervical smear testing are effective modes of cancer screening, yet many women choose not to be screened. Nurses need to understand the reasons behind women’s choices to improve adherence.”
They looked at 19 research papers which covered 5,991 women, were published from 1994 to 2008, and recorded the reasons for undergoing cancer screening in each case. Analysis showed, “All women have fears and uncertainty, but the sources of their fears differ, producing two main decision scenarios.”
Ackerson commented, “Our review showed that fear could motivate women to either seek screening or to avoid screening. Some women complied because they feared the disease and saw screening as routine care, but other women feared medical examinations, health care providers, tests and procedures and didn’t seek screening if their health was good.
“Lack of information was a big barrier. It was clear from our review that very few women understood that cervical smear testing aims to identify abnormal cells before they become malignant and that breast screening can detect cancer in the early stages when treatment is most effective.”
The researchers conclude that nurses need to address women’s fears and misconceptions about breast and cervical cancer screening “by openly and uniformly discussing the importance and benefits.”
In 2007 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 25 percent of women over age 40 had not had breast screening in the last two years and 16 percent aged 18 and over had not had a cervical smear in the last three years.