Rural Populations’ Fatalistic Perceptions About Cancer May Contribute to Cancer Disparities

March 09, 2022 by Elisa Becze BA, ELS, Editor

Compared to people living in urban areas, on a nationwide U.S. survey, rural populations were more likely to report believing that cancer is unpreventable and always fatal. Researchers reported the survey findings and analysis in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, and Prevention.

The researchers surveyed 10,362 people aged 18 and older (3,821 in rural areas and 6,541 in urban) at 12 National Cancer Institute–designated cancer centers across the United States from 2016–2020. The sample was predominately non-Hispanic White (81%) and female (57%). They responded to three statements about cancer fatalism (“It seems like everything causes cancer,” “There’s not much you can do to lower your chances of getting cancer,” and “When I think about cancer, I automatically think about death”) and one about cancer information overload (“There are so many different recommendations about preventing cancer, it’s hard to know which ones to follow”).

Compared with urban residents, rural residents were more likely to believe that everything causes cancer, prevention is not possible, cancer is always fatal, and there are too many recommendations about cancer prevention to follow.

The researchers theorized that the disproportionate cancer burden in rural areas may be partly attributed to fatalism and information overload that undermine prevention and screening behaviors. “Future interventions targeting rural populations should account for higher levels of fatalism and information overload,” the researchers concluded.

As trusted experts, oncology nurses can help dispel myths and misinformation about cancer and guide patients and their communities through cancer prevention and screening recommendations.


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