Is It Hazardous to Guess Your Risk of Cancer?

In this two-minute video, I explained why it can be hazardous to take a guess at what your lifetime risk is of experiencing cancer. I describe a study I conducted with, among others, Angie Fagerlin. This is one of my favorite studies, because it is really counterintuitive and raises important questions about health communication and medical decision-making. Take a look at the video, and let me know what you think about it.

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3 Responses to Is It Hazardous to Guess Your Risk of Cancer?

  1. Peter Elias says:


    Peter Elias

  2. Sara says:

    Very nice, Peter! This is very useful evidence to consider in understanding and measuring values and goals for screening and treatment. Figuring out how to measure “feeling about risk” in a user friendly way that has high reliability and how to incorporate it into a model of preferences will be interesting!

  3. Dorothy says:

    Your example of women rethinking mammography is a bit of a head scratcher given the preponderance of evidence that mammography does not save lives and in fact can cause harm. Perhaps these women have heard of that controversy but dismissed it because they “knew” their risk of getting cancer was so high that the folks who were arguing for fewer mammograms were simply wrong, dangerously wrong. But hearing what their real risk is made them rethink their bias. Who knows. Either way, mammography is not cut and dried beneficial, so that isn’t really a good example of changing behaviors depending on whether they feel more or less anxious about their risk.

    In your book, you spoke of some women at some elevated risk of getting breast cancer in the next five years and posed the question of whether they should partake of some preventative treatment. But before making the decision, the women rightly wanted to know what the baseline risk was, how much higher was their risk? And you said you were reluctant to give them that information. Then the information you did have was baseline lifetime risk, not five year risk. So I found your anecdote/study there to be confusing. Apples to oranges. And it does not account for the difference risk of developing an indolent cancer or a deadly one. All that information would be most useful for someone thinking about a preventative treatment that has potential additional risks.

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