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What do people think causes cancer?

A recent study assessed cancer patients’ perceptions regarding the potential causes of their cancer.

Cancer is one of the leading causes of death around the world.  There are many known risk factors such as smoking, poor diet, inadequate exercise, alcohol consumption, and sun exposure.

Knowing what people think causes cancer is important for promoting prevention techniques and educating the public.    A University of South Australia study published in Cancer Control looked at what the public thinks causes cancer in populations from Australia and Vietnam.

A total of 285 Australian adults aged 18 and older and 300 Vietnamese adults aged 21 and older, all with a confirmed cancer diagnosis of any type participated in the study.  Researchers gave participants 25 possible causes of cancer and participants said whether or not they believed it caused their cancer on a 5-point scale.  One meant they believed it definitely did not contribute, four meant they believed it definitely contributed, and five meant the participant did not know if it contributed.  Some possible causes are known risk factors for cancer, such as smoking and sun exposure, and some were not, such as stress or injury.

About 50 percent of Australian cancer patients listed “age” as the primary cause of their cancer, and most of the Vietnamese cancer patients listed “poor diet” as the main factor.  Although age was listed as the number one perceived risk factor for Australian cancer patients, it was number ten for Vietnamese cancer patients.  Furthermore, poor diet was placed at number eleven for Australian cancer patients.

For both countries, smoking was listed as the fifth most likely cause and alcohol was the ninth most likely cause.   Moreover, “bad luck” was ranked fifth for Vietnamese cancer patients and third for Australian cancer patients.

This study suggests that cancer patients in Australia and Vietnam have different perceptions of cancer risk factors.  This study also suggests that Australian and Vietnamese cancer patients might believe that they have limited control over their diagnosis.

Written by Avery Bisbee



Hall, A., Nguyen, S. M., & Mackenzie, L., (2019). What Caused My Cancer? Cancer Patients’ Perceptions on What May Have Contributed to the Development of Their Cancer: A Cross-Sectional, Cross-Country Comparison Study. Cancer Control. doi: 10.1177/1073274819863786

Just bad luck? Cancer patients nominate ‘fate’ as third most likely cause. (2019, September 15). Retrieved from


Image by TeroVesalainen from Pixabay



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