Changes in beliefs about cancer in Western Australia, 1964-2001



Publication Details

Donovan, R. J., Carter, O. B.J., Jalleh, G. & Jones, S. C. (2004). Changes in beliefs about cancer in Western Australia, 1964-2001. Medical Journal of Australia, 181 (1), 23-25.


To assess changes in people's knowledge and beliefs about cancer between 1964 and 2001. Questions in a 1964 survey of beliefs about cancer (randomly selected households) were replicated in a 2001 telephone survey (random-digit dialing). Perth, Western Australia. 984 and 491 participants aged 20 years or older in the 1964 and 2001 surveys, respectively (response rates, 86.8% and 47.0%). Changes in knowledge and beliefs about cancer. Between 1964 and 2001, there were major improvements in knowledge about the causes of cancer, with several myths dispelled. In 1964, the proportion of Perth residents surveyed who believed that cancer is contagious was 20% (95% CI, 18%-22%), compared with 3% (95% CI, 2%-4%) in 2001. Similarly, the proportion who believed cancer is caused by "a knock" was 25% (95% CI, 22%-28%) in 1964, compared with 1% (95% CI, 0-2%) in 2001. Cancer screening participation rates also greatly improved, from 18% (95% CI, 16%-20%) in 1964 to 77% (95% CI, 73%-81%) in 2001. Changes in participants' sources of knowledge about cancer were also evident, with family members and television increasing markedly as sources of information. Improved education of the public in health matters over the past four decades appears to have had a major and positive impact on knowledge about cancer.

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