Date: 27 Sep 2013

Association of cancer worry and perceived risk with doctor avoidance: an analysis of information avoidance in a nationally representative US sample

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Fear of receiving bad news about one’s health can lead people to avoid seeking out health information that, ironically, may be crucial for health maintenance. Using a nationally representative US sample, the present study examined whether perceived likelihood of developing cancer and worry about cancer were associated with reports of avoiding visits to one’s doctor, in respondents under and over age 50. Cancer worry, but not perceived risk of cancer, predicted doctor avoidance in respondents aged 50 and older, whereas the opposite pattern held for respondents under age 50. Moreover, in respondents aged 50 and older, cancer worry and perceived cancer risk interacted such that cancer worry was linked to doctor avoidance only when respondents also perceived a high likelihood of cancer. The latter result is consistent with the notion that worry may motivate information seeking when people expect information to dispel worry and information avoidance when the information is seen as highly likely to confirm one’s fears. Findings suggest a need for communication strategies that can influence worry and perceived risk differentially. Research should also assess the effectiveness of other behavioral strategies (e.g., automatic scheduling of appointments) as a means for reducing doctor avoidance.