By LEE BOWMAN
Scripps Howard News Service
August 15, 2007
Results of a recent survey published by the American Cancer Society offers fresh evidence that we often believe scientifically unsubstantiated claims.
One of the more striking findings was that more than two-thirds of nearly 1,000 adults surveyed nationwide said the risk of dying from cancer in the United States is increasing.
Yet in fact, the cancer-death rate overall, standardized for age, has actually been on the wane for a decade, and five-year survival for all cancers has been steadily increasing for the past 30 years.
The survey included 12 inaccurate and unlikely statements about cancer risk and prevention, and asked each person to identify which was true or false.
While two-thirds of those responding said at least seven of the 12 statements were wrong, five of the 12 were embraced as true by at least a quarter of the respondents.
Among some of the more prevalent errors:
Men were more likely than women to believe that the statements were true -- eight out of the 12.
The researchers, led by Kevin Stein of the Cancer Society's Behavioral Research Center, said the misconceptions about cancer may not necessarily be harmful outright, but tend to distract people from adopting lifestyles and prevention practices that are proven to work.
Other advocacy groups like the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association have to battle such myths as heart disease being mainly a concern of the old and of men, or that slightly elevated blood pressure or blood sugar is of little or no concern.
Another survey, published in the July-August issue of the Annals of Family Medicine, breaks a different sort of ground about belief and behavior.
While most religious traditions call on adherents to care for and serve the poor, responses from more than 1,100 practicing physicians showed that those who are more religious are actually slightly less likely to care for underserved and poor patients than those with no religious affiliation.
"This came as both a surprise and a disappointment," observed Dr. Farr Curlin, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Chicago who led the survey.
Doctors who stressed strongly that their religious beliefs influence their practice of medicine were more likely to report caring for the medically needy, as were those who considered themselves "very spiritual."
However, the overall rate of service by those who considered themselves more religious by affiliation and attendance at services was 31 percent, compared to 35 percent for those who described their religion as atheist, agnostic or none.
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