New research on public awareness and knowledge of cancer prevention

Charlotte Constable Fernandez is World Cancer Research Fund’s (WCRF) Research Funding & Science Activities Assistant.

New research, funded by WCRF, found that our health promotion materials successfully increased awareness and knowledge of WCRF/American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) cancer prevention guidelines in those at high genetic risk of cancer.

Lynch Syndrome (LS) is dominantly an inherited disorder and mutation carriers have an increased risk of cancers, particularly colorectal. Previous research suggests that even though LS is a genetic disease, this risk can be reduced by following lifestyle recommendations for cancer prevention. Currently, doctors do not provide any advice on the possible advantages of adopting a healthy lifestyle.

The aim and outcomes

The researchers, led by Professor of Nutrition and Disease, Ellen Kampman at Wageningen University, ran a randomised controlled trial in 200 LS carriers to investigate whether WCRF health information leaflets would affect their awareness and knowledge of cancer prevention recommendations.

The health promotion materials consisted of one leaflet providing general information on cancer development and the ten WCRF/AICR cancer prevention recommendations. A second leaflet contained information specifically for colorectal cancer risk factors and recommendations.

It was found that the group which had received the health promotion materials became more aware with increased knowledge on cancer prevention guidelines. And importantly, the provision of information did not cause any additional distress or worry about cancer. However, as expected, no effect on adherence to the cancer prevention guidelines was found.

Impact and future research

These findings are valuable, as awareness and knowledge are known to be determinants of health behaviour change, along with change in the environment that gives rise to them.

Professor Ellen Kampan said: “It shows that relatively simple interventions have an marked impact on the knowledge that individuals have. Changing their actual behavior will be the next step.” 

Therefore, the researchers explored factors which might influence the lifestyle of Lynch Syndrome mutation carriers. By running focus groups with carriers, the researchers aimed to highlight causes for adherence, and non-adherence, to cancer prevention recommendations. For example, wanting to avoid Lynch Syndrome dominating their life was frequently reported as a barrier to a healthy lifestyle.

These group meetings provided a detailed overview of determinants of adherence which will be invaluable for the design of lifestyle interventions tailored to Lynch Syndrome mutation carriers.

Future research should now look at how health promotion materials can be used to increase adherence and where healthy lifestyle recommendations should come from to make the most impact.

 

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