Health campaigns fail to motivate men to get screened for cancer

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Messages meant to help increase participation in cancer screening may actually have the opposite effect, according to a study published in Psychological Science (2010 Jul;21(7):941-3).

The study, conducted by Monika Sieverding of the University of Heidelberg and colleagues, investigated whether or not men's beliefs about screening rates influenced their decision to get screened for cancer. From men approached in pedestrian areas in two large German cities, researchers chose men who were at least age 45 years and had never been screened for cancer. The men were given two true statements about cancer to read. One stated that only 18% of German men had been screened for cancer in the last year (“low-prevalence” group) and the other stated that 65% of men had already been screened (“high-prevalence” group). Then the men were asked if they intended to have cancer screening in the next 12 months.

Researchers reported that those who read the statement referring to the high-prevalence group were much more likely to indicate that they would have cancer screening in the next year than those who read the statement referring to the low-prevalence group. In addition, men who were given the “low-prevalence” statement were less likely to provide their name and address to receive further information about cancer screening by mail, thus indicating that low-prevalence information may actually have a demotivating effect.

“For us it is so interesting because this is very easy to change,” said Sieverding, who co-wrote the article with Sarah Decker and Friederike Zimmermann, all of the University of Heidelberg. “There are so many barriers to cancer screening. You cannot change attitudes easily, or the image of the average cancer screening patient, but it is easy to change the framing of the campaign.”

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