Research Communications

Catching Cancer 

Fatalism, finances reduce health screenings in Appalachia

Nov. 16, 2010

When cancer strikes in Appalachia, the response may not be quite what you expect. “There can be a fatalism in Appalachia. Because of religious beliefs, people will believe that whatever happens, happens for a reason. They’ll think, ‘What would I do about it anyway?’” says Jennette Lovejoy, an Ohio University graduate student in journalism.

If more people participated in screenings for cancer, catching it early at a more treatable stage, perhaps that fatalism could be abated and more lives saved. Travis Lovejoy, a graduate student in psychology, conducted several recent studies—with Jennette Lovejoy as co-investigator—to better understand the factors that influence Appalachians’ decisions to be screened.

Travis Lovejoy
Travis Lovejoy, psychology graduate student.

Through telephone and in-person surveys as well as focus groups, the Lovejoys asked men and women in Appalachian Ohio about their screening practices for breast, cervical, colorectal, and prostate cancer. They also were asked about their incomes and education, their beliefs about cancer and cancer screenings, and how they obtain health and medical information. The research was funded by a partnership between the Scripps College of Communication and the American Cancer Society.

Catching Cancer
Illustration: Christina Ullman

The Lovejoys found, not surprisingly, that individuals with lower incomes and those who lacked health insurance were less likely to get screened. But psychology also factored into the decision. “People were less likely to get screened if they didn’t perceive high enough benefits,” says Travis Lovejoy. For instance, if they didn’t think the screening could result in a longer life, it wasn’t worth the fear of undergoing an invasive screening procedure.

The study also discovered that 65 percent of Appalachians followed screening recommendations for breast cancer, 70 percent for cervical, 50 percent for colorectal, and 50 percent for prostate. It may take a regional approach to find ways to increase those numbers, whether it’s working with local religious beliefs or tailoring awareness campaigns so they “hit closer to home, rather than using celebrities,” Travis Lovejoy says.

by Susan Dalzell

This article appears in the Autumn/Winter 2010 issue of Perspectives magazine.