Cancer Causes & Control

, 22:1503

What factors do cancer patients believe contribute to the development of their cancer? (New South Wales, Australia)

  • Simon J. Willcox
  • Bernard W. Stewart
  • Freddy Sitas
Original paper



To analyze Australian cancer patients’ beliefs about factors contributing to the development of their cancer.


As part of a case–control study (The Cancer Council NSW Cancer, Lifestyle and Evaluation of Risk Study), a total of 2,857 cancer patients (open to all types of cancer) were surveyed and via an open-ended question, were asked to specify factors they think contributed to the development of their cancer. Qualitative analysis and categorical techniques were used to analyze the data.


About half, 53%, of patients specified at least one contributing factor. The odds of a person specifying a contributing factor increased with time period since diagnosis (p = 0.0006). Patients most frequently specified, respectively: “Stress” (15.4%), “Genetics/hereditary” (10.9%) and “Smoking” (6.2%). Among factors specified the largest proportion (24.1%) was perceived to be “Non-modifiable.”


Cancer patients specified a broad range of factors and agents to which their disease may be attributed. Some of these were poorly correlated with epidemiological rankings of attributable risk factors. The role of psychosocial and genetic factors was overstated. Misconceptions regarding the causes of cancer are a key consideration of health professionals when devising communication strategies around cancer prevention.


Cancer Causal beliefs Attributions Risk factors Knowledge 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Simon J. Willcox
    • 1
    • 2
  • Bernard W. Stewart
    • 3
    • 4
  • Freddy Sitas
    • 5
    • 6
    • 7
  1. 1.Cancer Council NSWWoolloomoolooAustralia
  2. 2.School of Public HealthUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia
  3. 3.Cancer Control ProgramSouth Eastern Sydney and Illawarra Public Health UnitRandwickAustralia
  4. 4.School of Women’s and Children’s HealthUniversity of New South WalesSydneyAustralia
  5. 5.Cancer Council NSWWoolloomooloo, SydneyAustralia
  6. 6.School of Public HealthUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia
  7. 7.School of Public Health and Community MedicineUniversity of NSWSydneyAustralia

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