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How are Multifactorial Beliefs about the Role of Genetics and Behavior in Cancer Causation associated with Cancer Risk Cognitions and Emotions in the U.S. Population?



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Objective People who believe that cancer has both genetic and behavioral risk factors have more accurate mental models of cancer causation and may be more likely to engage in cancer screening behaviors than people who do not hold such multifactorial causal beliefs. This research explored possible health cognitions and emotions that might produce such differences. Methods Using nationally representative cross‐sectional data from the U.S. Health Information National Trends Survey (N=2,719), we examined whether endorsing a multifactorial model of cancer causation was associated with perceptions of risk and other cancer‐related cognitions and affect. Data were analyzed using linear regression with jackknife variance estimation and procedures to account for the complex survey design and weightings. Results Bivariate and multivariable analyses indicated that people who endorsed multifactorial beliefs about cancer had higher absolute risk perceptions, lower pessimism about cancer prevention, and higher worry about harm from environmental toxins that could be ingested or that emanate from consumer products (ps<0.05). Bivariate analyses indicated that multifactorial beliefs were also associated with higher feelings of risk, but multivariable analyses suggested that this effect was accounted for by the negative affect associated with reporting a family history of cancer. Multifactorial beliefs were not associated with believing that everything causes cancer or that there are too many cancer recommendations to follow (ps>0.05). Conclusion Holding multifactorial causal beliefs about cancer are associated with a constellation of risk perceptions, health cognitions, and affect that may motivate cancer prevention and detection behavior.