People Shun Help for Illnesses They View as 'Untreatable'

Study finds they're less likely to get tested for cancer, AIDS

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FRIDAY, May 26, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- People are more likely to seek tests for conditions they believe to be severe but treatable, but are unlikely to do the same for illnesses they view as severe and untreatable, such as Alzheimer's disease, cancer and HIV/AIDS, a study finds.

"If people think they have no control, they may not seek information about their health status even if they are at risk for a serious disease. In fact, they may go out of their way to actively avoid any information," researcher Erica Dawson, an assistant professor of organizational behavior and fellow of the Center for Customer Insights at the Yale School of Management in New Haven, Conn., said in a prepared statement.

In one experiment, the researchers told two groups of participants that they were at risk for alopecia areata, which can cause hair loss but poses no overall health threat. One group was told the condition was severe and untreatable, while the other group was told it was treatable.

People who were told the condition was untreatable were less likely to request a conclusive genetic test, less likely to volunteer to take part in a future study about the disease, and avoided looking at an informational brochure about the disease in private.

The results may actually under-represent the degree to which people avoid information when confronted with a serous health problem, the researchers said.

The study may help doctors and other health care workers predict when people may be likely to avoid testing and to provide them with appropriate counseling.

"Caregivers should discuss treatment options not only with patients who have been positively diagnosed, but also with those who have considered, but not yet consented to, diagnostic testing," Dawson said.

More information

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration explains lab tests.

SOURCE: Yale University, news release, April 26, 2006

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