According to a new survey from the United Kingdom, smokers have more pessimistic attitudes about cancer and may be more likely to delay getting screened.

The senior author of the report asserts that smokers are less likely to engage in cancer screening and are less engaged in health services overall.

The Health Behavior Research Center at University College London wanted to investigate why smokers are less engaged with health services by exploring whether this could be partly due to excessively negative beliefs about cancer.

Researchers used data from a survey of adults over the age of 50 in six different countries. However the focus was on responses from nearly 7,000 people in the United Kingdom.

The survey asked participants several questions, including whether or not they considered cancer as a death sentence and if they would want to know if they had cancer. Participants were also asked how screening affects the change of survival and about manageability of cancer and its treatments.

The survey also asked about reasons participants may avoid cancer screenings such as being too busy or embarrassed.

The results showed that current smokers are more pessimistic attitudes about cancer outcomes than former or non-smokers. The biggest difference was over the statement that a cancer diagnosis is a death sentence. About 34% of smokers agreed to that statement compared to 24% of former smokers and non-smokers.

According to the results, about 18% of current smokers would not want to know if they had cancer, compared to 11% of both former and non-smokers.

The results also revealed that smokers were more likely to say that being worried about what the doctor might find could make them delay going to the doctor.

Researchers not involved in the study believe that these findings may be especially true for older smokers who may be less likely to believe that they can quit.

These avoidant behaviors can have serious health consequences because cancer treatment is more likely to be effective when administered early on. Some screening programs may even prevent cancer by identifying pre-cancerous lesions. 

Gerry Oginski
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