Public attitudes and awareness of cancer risks and early detection: a Canadian perspective


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Heather Bryant1
1Canadian Partnership Against Cancer, Toronto, ON, Canada

Abstract

The Canadian Partnership Against Cancer was inaugurated in 2007 to implement the Canadian cancer control strategy. As part of the early work in assessing strategy priorities, as public survey was done to ascertain public awareness and attitudes to cancer and other chronic diseases. While cancer was identified as the disease of highest public concern, there was relatively little understanding of the primary risk factors. Tobacco use and family history were often cited as potential risk factors for cancer, but obesity and a sedentary lifestyle were linked strongly in public perceptions with cardiovascular disease and diabetes, but rarely with cancer. Further exploration of the correlates of these beliefs was done to help target regional awareness; details will be presented and discussed. A second survey was done of Canadians aged 45 to 74 in 2008, this time specifically targeted to understanding public perceptions of colorectal cancer (CRC) screening across Canada, as several provinces were actively planning program launches. The results showed, contrary to expectations, a high degree of comfort in discussing CRC screening issues with health care providers. Most Canadians thought first of colonoscopy when thinking of tests for screening; however, in most provinces, more had actually had fecal testing than colonoscopy testing in the past. Differences in test choices across provinces, and potential health care system and population factors that may account for these differences, will be discussed. Finally, while the vast majority of Canadians agreed that screening for CRC was desirable, the majority believed that "screening" actually implied early presentation after symptom onset, rather than appearing for testing while well and asymptomatic. All ten provinces in Canada have now announced and/or launched programs; we will present the impact of these findings on public awareness initiatives, recruitment strategies, and program designs, and program progress.