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Don't Confuse Me With The Facts

As a former hospital executive and a long time researcher in the field of consumer health behavior, I tend to look at things differently than many of my colleagues in healthcare. Call me contrarian.

The American Cancer Society for example just released the findings from a study in which 957 adults were asked if they agreed with what turned out to be 12 myths about cancer. Turns out, according to Kevin Stein, the director of the Behavioral Research Center at the American Cancer Society, “misconceptions about cancer are rampant among Americans…particularly when it comes to cancer risks.”

What got my attention was where researchers seemed to chide those of us people who believe that the risk of dying from cancer was increasing. Turns out, a full two thirds of US adults happened to believe this is the case. Count me in, because it sure feels to me like too many people continue to die from at least the more virulent forms of cancer, including lung and pancreatic cancer.

There is an expression among marketers, that perception is the equivalent of fact. In other words, if you believe something to be true, it might as well be true because you are going to behave as if it were. Given that, what’s so wrong with people believing that they are at increased risk of getting cancer?

According to the Health Belief Model, one of the grand daddy tools that shaped much of today’s health education efforts, a person has to believe that they are at risk of getting a condition in order for them to take action. It would seem therefore that we would want more people to be concerned with their risk of getting cancer rather than the other way around. Why? Because more people would get screened, more cancers detected early on and more lives saved…except of course for lung cancer where conventional wisdom argues that there’s no sense screening for a cancer for which there is no cure.

Chances are too, that what experts dispel as a “myth” today will undoubtedly become a “fact” tomorrow. We have all seen this happen often enough to become skeptics of the health experts.

I for one would like to see the American Cancer Society focus more efforts on detecting cures for lung cancer rather than confusing people with data which, while true, contribute little to fighting what continues to be a deadly disease for too many people.
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