About half of all cancers are diagnosed in adults older than 65, making them the age group at highest risk of developing this disease. Nurses from different specialties can support individuals and communities in the prevention and early detection of cancer and should be aware of the common knowledge gaps and perceived barriers among older adults.
The goal of the current research was to investigate personal characteristics, perceived barriers, and beliefs related to cancer awareness in older adults, with a special focus on perceptions about the influence of cancer risk factors, knowledge of cancer symptoms, and anticipated help-seeking.
Descriptive cross-sectional study.
Participants were 1213 older adults (≥ 65 years old) from the representative national Onco-barometer survey conducted in 2020 in Spain.
Questions on the perceived influence of cancer risk factors, knowledge of cancer symptoms, and the Spanish version of the Awareness and Beliefs about Cancer (ABC) questionnaire were administered in computer-assisted telephone interviews.
Knowledge of cancer risk factors and symptoms was strongly related to personal characteristics and was limited among males and older individuals. Respondents from lower socio-economic background recognized fewer cancer symptoms. Having personal or family history of cancer had opposite effects on cancer awareness: It was related to more accurate symptom knowledge but also to lower perceptions about the influence of risk factors and more delayed help-seeking. Anticipated help-seeking times were strongly influenced by perceived barriers to help-seeking and beliefs about cancer. Worry about wasting the doctor’s time (48% increase, 95% CI [25%–75%]), about what the doctor might find (21% increase [3%–43%]) and not having enough time to go to the doctor (30% increase [5%–60%]) were related to more delayed help-seeking intentions. In contrast, beliefs that reflected higher perceived seriousness of a potential cancer diagnosis were related to shorter anticipated help-seeking times (19% decrease [5%–33%]).
These results suggest that older adults could benefit from interventions informing them about how to reduce their cancer risk and addressing emotional barriers and beliefs associated with help-seeking delays. Nurses can contribute to educating this vulnerable group and are in a unique position to address some barriers to help-seeking.