Public perceptions of cancer: a qualitative study of the balance of positive and negative beliefs

Robb, K. A. , Simon, A. E., Miles, A. and Wardle, J. (2014) Public perceptions of cancer: a qualitative study of the balance of positive and negative beliefs. BMJ Open, 4(7), e005434. (doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2014-005434)

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Publisher's URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2014-005434

Abstract

<b>Objectives</b> Cancer's insidious onset and potentially devastating outcomes have made it one of the most feared diseases of the 20th century. However, advances in early diagnosis and treatment mean that death rates are declining, and there are more than 30 million cancer survivors worldwide. This might be expected to result in more sanguine attitudes to the disease. The present study used a qualitative methodology to provide an in-depth exploration of attitudes to cancer and describes the balance of negative and positive perspectives.<p></p> <b>Design</b> A qualitative study using semistructured interviews with thematic analysis.<p></p> <b>Setting</b> A university in London, UK.<p></p> <b>Participants</b> 30 participants (23–73 years), never themselves diagnosed with cancer.<p></p> <b>Results</b> Accounts of cancer consistently incorporated negative and positive views. In almost all respondents, the first response identified fear, trauma or death. However, this was followed—sometimes within the same sentence—by acknowledgement that improvements in treatment mean that many patients can survive cancer and may even resume a normal life. Some respondents spontaneously reflected on the contradictions, describing their first response as a ‘gut feeling’ and the second as a more rational appraisal—albeit one they struggled to believe. Others switched perspective without apparent awareness. Conclusions People appear to be ‘in two minds’ about cancer. A rapid, intuitive sense of dread and imminent death coexists with a deliberative, rational recognition that cancer can be a manageable, or even curable, disease. Recognising cancer's public image could help in the design of effective cancer control messages.<p></p>

Item Type:Articles
Status:Published
Refereed:Yes
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Robb, Dr Kathryn
Authors: Robb, K. A., Simon, A. E., Miles, A., and Wardle, J.
College/School:College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > Institute of Health and Wellbeing > General Practice and Primary Care
College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > Institute of Health and Wellbeing > Mental Health and Wellbeing
Journal Name:BMJ Open
Publisher:BMJ Publishing Group
ISSN:2044-6055
ISSN (Online):2044-6055
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2014 The Authors
First Published:First published in BMJ Open 4(7):e005434
Publisher Policy:Reproduced under a Creative Commons License

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Project CodeAward NoProject NamePrincipal InvestigatorFunder's NameFunder RefLead Dept
623641"Analytic" and "emotional" information processing: implications for public understanding of cancerKathryn RobbCancer Research UK (CAN-RES-UK)8933IHW - MENTAL HEALTH & WELLBEING