Formative research on adolescent and adult perceptions of risk factors for breast cancer

Document Type



breast cancer; environment; adolescent beliefs; formative research; focus groups; United States

Identifier Data


Publication Source

Social Science & Medicine


This study uses the Health Belief Model (HBM) as a framework to guide formative research of the lay public's perceptions of risks associated with breast cancer. Data were collected from adolescent females and adult females across four counties in Michigan, US. Ten focus groups (N=91) were conducted and analyzed with a coding scheme based on the HBM. Participants’ responses to focus group questions (N=5168 thought units) reveal beliefs about severity, susceptibility, and efficacy pertaining to breast cancer, nutrition, activity, environment, and the role of government and industry. Chi-squares examined the distribution of statements across categories between adult females and adolescent females. Results revealed that both adolescent and mother groups recognized gender and heredity as relevant risk factors related to susceptibility, and detection as a strategy to decrease severity of breast cancer through early treatment. Beliefs about environmental factors were characterized by uncertainty for both groups. Also, while adolescent girls communicated more about efficacy issues, mothers focused significantly more than adolescent girls on the role of government and industry in breast cancer prevention and treatment. Representative qualitative thought units are included based on their frequency, salience, and relevance to HBM message design guidelines. Formative research is the first phase in the development of health campaigns, informing the creation of health messages for target audiences.

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