Original Article

How are lung cancer risk perceptions and cigarette smoking related?—testing an accuracy hypothesis

Lei-Shih Chen, Kimberly A. Kaphingst, Tung-Sung Tseng, Shixi Zhao


Background: Subjective risk perception is an important theoretical construct in the field of cancer prevention and control. Although the relationship between subjective risk perception and health behaviors has been widely studied in many health contexts, the causalities and associations between the risk perception of developing lung cancer and cigarette smoking have been inconsistently reported among studies. Such inconsistency may be from discrepancies between study designs (cross-sectional versus longitudinal designs) and the three hypotheses (i.e., the behavior motivation hypothesis, the risk reappraisals hypothesis, and the accuracy hypothesis) testing different underlying associations between risk perception and cigarette-smoking behaviors. To clarify this issue, as an initial step, we examined the association between absolute and relative risk perceptions of developing lung cancer and cigarette-smoking behaviors among a large, national representative sample of 1,680 U.S. adults by testing an accuracy hypothesis (i.e., people who smoke accurately perceived a higher risk of developing lung cancer).
Methods: Data from the U.S. Health Information National Trends Survey (HINTS) were analyzed using logistic regression and multivariate linear regression to examine the associations between risk perception and cigarette-smoking behaviors among 1,680 U.S. adults.
Results: Findings from this cross-sectional survey suggest that absolute and relative risk perceptions were positively and significantly correlated with having smoked >100 cigarettes during lifetime and the frequency of cigarette smoking. Only absolute risk perception was significantly associated with the number of cigarettes smoked per day among current smokers.
Conclusions: Because both absolute and relative risk perceptions are positively related to most cigarette-smoking behaviors, this study supports the accuracy hypothesis. Moreover, absolute risk perception might be a more sensitive measurement than relative risk perception for perceived lung cancer risk. Longitudinal research is needed in the future to investigate other types of risk perception-risk behavior hypotheses—the behavior motivation and the risk reappraisals hypotheses—among nationally representative samples to further examine the causations between risk perception of obtaining lung cancer and smoking behaviors.

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