Blacks have the highest cancer incidence and mortality rates of all races, but compared with whites, they feel less at risk for developing the disease, according to a study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention.

This disconnect, researchers said, could affect African Americans’ motivation to get screened for the disease.

For the study, researchers at New York State University at Buffalo (UB) analyzed responses of 5,581 adults who completed the 2007 Health Information Trends Survey conducted by the National Cancer Institute. The survey focused on people’s perception of their overall cancer risk.

The survey asked participants about their perceived chances of developing cancer in the future, their family cancer history, cigarette smoking history, current health status and cancer beliefs.

According to UB press materials, results showed blacks were less likely to report their family’s cancer history, which researchers linked to their perception of being less at risk.

In addition, the study data supported previous research showing minority groups had limited exposure to public health messages about cancer in their communities. Scientists believed this also may cause minorities to feel they are less at risk of getting cancer.

Researchers found that perceived risk was lower among Hispanics and Asians because they had fewer family members with a history of smoking.

“Our level of perceived cancer risk can affect our health and longevity,” said UB assistant professor Heather Orom, PhD, and first author on the study.
“Believing that we could develop cancer in our lifetime can motivate us to undergo tests, such as colonoscopy or mammogram to detect cancer early,” Orom added. “This knowledge also may motivate us to engage in behavior such as exercising and eating more fruits and vegetables that can reduce our chances of getting the disease.”

Read RH’s “Spotting Cancer” to learn when and how often you should screen for certain cancers.