Negative Cancer Screening Messages Discourage Minorities

November 6, 2008
Chris Cole

Continuous emphasis on the negative consequences of the lack of cancer screening among minorities can cause those among these populations to be less likely to undergo screening.

Continuous emphasis on the negative consequences of the lack of cancer screening among minorities can cause those among these populations to be less likely to undergo screening, according to research results published recently in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. Robert Nicholson, PhD, assistant professor, Department of Neurology and Psychiatry, St. Louis University School of Public Health, and colleagues randomized 300 African American adults into groups that read one of four articles that emphasized: 1) the importance of the colon cancer as a problem among African Americans; 2) that outcomes are worse for blacks than whites who have colon cancer; 3) that improvements in outcomes for African Americans are less than seen among whites; and 4) that outcomes for blacks suffering from colon cancer are improving. Participants were then asked to answer questions regarding the likelihood that they would undergo screening.

The researchers found—following comprehension analysis that confirmed that all participants understood what they read—that those who read about the improvements in outcomes over time were most likely to experience a positive emotional response, whereas those who read the article that only discussed the problem were most likely to experience a negative response.

“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 Nicholson. “Instead of motivating people who would be less likely to get these services in the first place, we may be driving them away.” He added that although questions weren’t asked about motivation, he suspects that information that reinforces a general mistrust of the medical community might play a role in the decreased likelihood of African Americans being 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.”