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December 9, 1992

Misconceptions About Cancer Among Latinos and Anglos

Author Affiliations

From the Division of General Internal Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco (Drs Pérez-Stable, Sabogal, Otero-Sabogal, and McPhee); and Division of Research, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, Oakland, Calif (Dr Hiatt).

JAMA. 1992;268(22):3219-3223. doi:10.1001/jama.1992.03490220063029

Objective.  —To collect information regarding knowledge about and attitudes toward cancer in a sample of adult health plan members, self-identified as Latino or Anglo.

Design.  —Cross-sectional survey.

Setting.  —Prepaid health plan.

Respondents.  —A random sample of 844 Latinos (mean age, 50.5 years) and 510 Anglos (51.8 years) completed the interview.

Main Outcome Measures and Results.  —Latinos were significantly more likely than Anglos to think that sugar substitutes (58% vs 42%), bruises from being hit (53% vs 34%), microwave ovens (47% vs 23%), eating pork (31% vs 11%), eating spicy foods (15% vs 8%), breast-feeding (14% vs 6%), and antibiotics (32% vs 12%) could cause cancer (P<.001 for each). Compared with Anglos, Latinos more often misidentified constant dizziness (39% vs 25%) and arthralgias (35% vs 20%) as being symptoms of cancer. A higher proportion of Latinos believed that having cancer is like getting a death sentence (46% vs 26%), that cancer is God's punishment (7% vs 2%), that there is very little one can do to prevent getting cancer (26% vs 18%), that it is uncomfortable to touch someone with cancer (13% vs 8%), and that they would rather not know if they had incurable cancer (35% vs 23%; P<.001 for each). Latino ethnicity was a significant predictor of these knowledge and attitude items in multivariate logistic regression models adjusted for sex, education, age, employment, marital status, county of residence, and self-perceived health status.

Conclusions.  —We conclude that misconceptions about cancer are more prevalent among Latinos than Anglos and that selected attitudes about cancer among Latinos fit a cultural theme of fatalismo. These data can enable development of culturally appropriate cancer control interventions for Latinos.(JAMA. 1992;268:3219-3223)