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Personal beliefs, experiences, and emotions influenced smokers’ perceptions of their cancer risk

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Q How do the personal beliefs, experiences, and emotions of smokers influence their perceptions of cancer risk?


Qualitative study using grounded theory analysis.


A university dental clinic in New York, New York, USA.


15 smokers who were 18–79 years of age (67% men, 47% white), were fluent in English, and had no cancer history. 9 participants smoked ⩽1 pack daily, and 6 smoked >1 pack daily. 12 participants had previously tried to stop smoking.


Participants were interviewed for 45 minutes. They were asked to describe behaviours, thoughts, and feelings that arose when they heard about a famous person’s death from cancer, a family member’s diagnosis, a media report about a cause of cancer, or discussion about a recent situation pertaining to cancer. Participants were also asked to think aloud while looking at 10 established cancer risk perception questions to give insight into how participants thought about risk perceptions. Interviews were audiotaped, transcribed, and analysed using grounded theory methods.


2 processes characterised perceptions of cancer risk. (1) Central processing of cancer risk perception. Participants gleaned cancer …

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  • For correspondence: Dr J L Hay, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, NY, USA. hayj{at}

  • Source of funding: National Institutes of Health.