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01.12.2018 | Research article | Ausgabe 1/2018 Open Access

BMC Cancer 1/2018

What is it about a cancer diagnosis that would worry people? A population-based survey of adults in England

BMC Cancer > Ausgabe 1/2018
Philippa J. Murphy, Laura A. V. Marlow, Jo Waller, Charlotte Vrinten
Wichtige Hinweise

Electronic supplementary material

The online version of this article (https://​doi.​org/​10.​1186/​s12885-017-3963-4) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.



Surveys indicate quite high prevalence of cancer worry in the general population, but little is known about what it is about cancer that worries people. A better understanding of the origins of cancer worry may help elucidate previously found inconsistencies in its behavioural effect on cancer prevention, screening uptake, and help-seeking for symptoms. In this study, we explore the prevalence and population distribution of general cancer worry and worries about specific aspects of cancer previously identified.


A population-based survey of 2048 English adults (18–70 years, April–May 2016), using face-to-face interviews to assess demographic characteristics, general cancer worry and twelve sources of cancer worry (adapted from an existing scale), including the emotional, physical, and social consequences of a diagnosis.


In general, a third of respondents (37%) never worried about cancer, 57% worried occasionally/sometimes, and 6% often/very often. In terms of specific worries, two thirds would be ‘quite a bit’ or ‘extremely’ worried about the threat to life and emotional upset a diagnosis would cause. Half would worry about surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, and loss of control over life. Worries about the social consequences were less commonly anticipated: just under half would worry about financial problems or their social roles, and a quarter would be worried about effects on identity, important relationships, gender role, and sexuality. Women and younger people reported more frequent worry about getting cancer, and would be more worried about the emotional, physical, and social consequences of a cancer diagnosis (p < .001). Those from ethnic minority backgrounds reported less frequent worry about getting cancer than their white counterparts, but would be equally worried about the emotional and physical impact of a cancer diagnosis, and worried more about the social consequences of a cancer diagnosis (p < .05).


The majority of English adults worry at least occasionally about getting cancer, and would be most worried about the emotional and physical impact of a cancer diagnosis. Distinguishing between the various worries that cancer can evoke may help inform efforts to allay undue worries in those who are deterred by them from engaging with cancer prevention and early detection.
Additional file 1: Adaptation of items from the Concerns About Recurrence Scale for use in a general population sample. (DOC 86 kb)
Additional file 2: Specific cancer worry items, factor loadings, and Cronbach’s alpha for each sub scale. (DOC 36 kb)
Additional file 3: Multivariate regression analyses by general cancer worry (‘never’ vs ‘at least occasionally’). (DOC 57 kb)
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