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Can social media change our perception of cancer prevention?

February 7, 2015

By Alice Peter, Director, Population Health & Prevention Unit, Cancer Care Ontario (@CancerCare_ON)

headshot Alice Peter

Alice Peter

To many people, the word “cancer” is frightening. There is a common perception that cancer is usually fatal.  As well, it is often thought that developing cancer is a matter of bad luck and with exception of quitting smoking there is little that can be done to prevent it.

“Cancer fatalism”, the belief that there is nothing a person can do to prevent or reduce the risk of cancer, is alive and well in our society. With so many mixed messages about what causes and what doesn’t cause cancer, it is not that surprising that people are tempted to think that there is nothing they can do.

An important part of our strategy at Cancer Care Ontario is chronic disease prevention. This is because we know that there are many things you can do to reduce your cancer risk.

Many people assume cancer can’t be prevented—they are resigned to fatalism. We know that when asked about cancer risk, a majority of people said they were unfamiliar with ways to reduce or prevent their chances of developing cancer. But we also know that as many as half of all cancers can be prevented by eliminating what we call known modifiable risk factors, which include:ontario

  • Smoking
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Poor diet
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Eliminating exposure to environmental and occupational carcinogens.

This knowledge gap invites a lot of questions. Who is responsible for educating people on modifiable risk factors? What is the best way of encouraging people to make lifestyle choices that will reduce their cancer risk? How do we effectively dispel myths and communicate about cancer prevention with an audience inundated with (often conflicting) information?

To close the gap we need to ensure that Ontarians are getting the right information about cancer prevention and screening through the right medium and at the right time.

This month, Cancer Care Ontario took a step towards closing the gap with the launch of My CancerIQ – an online cancer risk assessment that determines an individual’s risk of developing breast, cervical, colorectal and lung cancer.


My CancerIQ seeks to meet Ontarians where they live – online. It is also our way of recognizing that in the new health economy, digitally-enabled care and tools will continue to play an increasingly important role.

Available online from a smartphone, tablet or desktop computer, the assessment asks questions about family, personal, medical and screening history, as well as lifestyle and workplace exposures. My CancerIQ is specifically designed for Ontarians and builds a tailored cancer risk profile to highlight a person’s cancer risk relative to other Ontarians the same age and sex. It also provides a personalized health action plan so Ontarians can immediately take action to reduce their cancer risk. The tool is intended to empower people to be proactive about their health and to be able to have better conversations with their healthcare providers about cancer prevention.

Cancer Care Ontario is looking forward to co-moderating #hcsmca on February 11, 2015 at 1 pm ET (2pm AT, 10am PT). We’d like to explore the following questions:

  • T1. Do Canadians believe that cancer is preventable?
  • T2. Are there enough credible resources available to inform Canadians about prevention?
  • T3. How can we use social media and digital tools to change perceptions of cancer prevention?

Please join us to discuss what we can do to lower our risk of cancer right now.

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