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Telling Patients They Are at High Risk Influences Decisions

Those who think their risk is greater than average may be more likely to accept treatment risks

WEDNESDAY, Dec. 26 (HealthDay News) -- People who believe they are at higher-than-average risk of developing a disease may be more inclined to take a treatment despite the risk of side effects, researchers report in the December issue of Patient Education and Counseling.

Angela Fagerlin, Ph.D., of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and colleagues recruited 249 female visitors to a hospital cafeteria. Participants were read a scenario describing an unnamed pill that could reduce a woman's risk of breast cancer by half but that also produced side effects, which in small percentages of women taking the medication could be serious. All the participants were asked to imagine that their risk of developing breast cancer within five years was 6 percent, but half were told that the average woman's risk is 3 percent, while the other half were told that the average woman's risk is 12 percent.

Women who were asked to imagine that they had an above-average risk of breast cancer were more likely than those in the below-average risk group to endorse taking the medication, and more likely to believe that it provided a significant reduction in their risk of breast cancer. More than 60 percent of respondents rated the helpfulness of comparative information as a four or five on a five-point scale.

"When designing decision aids, developers must contemplate the potential implications of providing comparative information to patients and not just include it simply because patients want to see it," the authors conclude.

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