1 in 3 patients would opt to receive cancer screenings despite risks

Some patients may elect to receive cancer screenings despite knowing the potential harms these tests could present, according to a study conducted by Columbia-based University of Missouri psychological science researchers.

"First, I would stress that that there is inherent value in cancer screenings — especially for those who are at higher risk, or for whom cancer may have a familial or genetic component," said study author Laura Scherer, PhD. "However, in our studies we wanted to see whether the public would be as enthusiastic about cancer screenings even if the harms unambiguously outweighed the benefits."

The researchers developed two online studies. One study gathered responses from a nationally representative U.S. sample. The researchers asked participants if they would want to get a hypothetical cancer screening for breast (women) or prostate (men) cancer that did not reduce their risk of death from cancer or increase their lifespan.

More than half of the participants said they would receive the described screening test. More than one-third of respondents wanted screening despite seeing the potential for serious harm from screening described in detail, along with knowing there were no benefits to the test.

"Our findings show that people have a strong desire to do something to address the threat of cancer and that they would prefer to receive a screening test that does not save lives rather than not be screened at all," Dr. Scherer said.

Patients may benefit when providers explicitly address patients' anxiety and their desire for reassurance and health information around potential diseases, such as giving informational tools to inform patients about the risks and benefits of cancer screening, Dr. Scherer said.

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