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Does psychosocial stress exacerbate avoidant responses to cancer information in those who are afraid of cancer? A population-based survey among older adults in England

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Objective: Communication of cancer information is an important element of cancer control, but cancer fear may lead to information avoidance, especially when coping is low. We examined the association between cancer fear and cancer information avoidance, and tested whether this was exacerbated by psychosocial stress.

Design: Cross-sectional survey of 1258 population-based adults (58–70 years) in England.

Main outcome measures: Cancer fear (intensity and frequency), perceived psychosocial stress and cancer information avoidance. Control variables were age, gender, ethnicity, marital status and education.

Results: A quarter (24%) of respondents avoided cancer information. Ordinal logistic regression analyses showed main effects of psychosocial stress (OR = 1.17, 95% CI 1.07–1.29) and cancer fear: cancer information avoidance was lowest in those with no cancer fear (13%), followed by those with moderate (24%; OR = 2.15, 95% CI: 1.49–3.12), and high cancer fear (35%; OR = 3.90, 95% CI: 2.65–5.73). In the adjusted model, the interaction between cancer fear and stress was significant (OR = 1.14, 95% CI 1.004–1.29, p < .05): 40% of those with high fear/high stress avoided cancer information compared with 29% with high fear/low stress.

Conclusion: Cancer fear and psychosocial stress interact to produce disengagement with cancer-related information, highlighting the importance of affective processes to cancer control efforts.
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Keywords: avoidance; cancer; fear; health communication; psychosocial stress; worry

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Research Department of Behavioural Science and Health, University College London, London, UK

Publication date: January 2, 2018

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