A just published survey found most Kiwis know the risk factors for lung cancer and melanoma but few can recall risk factors for cervical, breast and bowel cancer.

The study, led by Dr Rose Richards of the University of Otago’s Cancer Society Social and Behaviour Research Unit, interviewed over 1000 adults from across New Zealand, and compared these findings with a similar study done in 2001.

The study found substantial gaps between expert recommendations and public knowledge about risk factors for cancer, though the gaps were closing for some cancer types.

Most people interviewed were able to identify what put them at risk of lung cancer and melanoma but knowledge about the risk factors for cervical, breast and bowel cancer was more shakey.

The study did find that awareness had increased since the last study in 2001 when just over half of people couldn’t identify any risk factors for bowel cancer and in the most recent survey that had dropped to under 35 per cent. Awareness of breast risk cancer factors had also increased amongst women.

Richards said these gains in knowledge were important “Cancer agencies are competing for attention in a crowded and contested health information environment, so it is great to see that some of these key messages are hitting home,” she said.

The current New Zealand Cancer Plan includes a goal of increasing public awareness of cancer risk factors, and Richard’s research team believe that strategies to increase cancer literacy should be part of broader evidence-based public health programmes to support risk behaviour change.

“These findings show that there are still significant gaps in awareness which need to be addressed,’ said Richards, “Particularly for some types of cancer such as bowel, breast and cervical cancer.”

The study, funded by the Cancer Society of New Zealand and titled Knowledge of evidence-based cancer risk factors remains low among New Zealand adults: findings from two cross-sectional studies, 2001 and 2015, was published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention.


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