updated 1/19/2006 8:18:48 PM ET 2006-01-20T01:18:48

Nearly half of U.S. adults believe they have little or no control in reducing their risk of cancer, according to an American Cancer Society-commissioned survey.

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Cancer Society officials say they are disappointed that 47 percent of the survey respondents had that perception.

The most common cancers — including lung, breast, prostate and colorectal cancers — often can be prevented or successfully treated through early detection, they said.

"They (people) don't know the basic facts," said Dr. Elmer Huerta, the organization's first vice president. He also directs cancer prevention and detection at the Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C.

But the survey result isn't surprising because cancer isn't just one disease, said Karen Glanz, a health psychologist at Atlanta's Emory University.

For example, scientists don't know what causes most brain tumors, so it's reasonable for people to feel they can't control whether they develop that condition, she said.

"It (the survey result) has a lot to do with the way the question was asked," she said.

The Opinion Research Corporation conducted the poll through telephone interviews of 1,019 Americans last month. The margin of error for the survey results is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

The survey found:

  • 65 percent are very or somewhat concerned that they will get cancer.
  • Younger people have a greater fear of developing cancer than older people. About 70 percent of people ages 35-54 were very or somewhat concerned about getting cancer, compared with 62 percent of people ages 55-64, 55 percent of those 65-75, and 47 percent of people 75 and older.
  • 75 percent of women 18 and older said they had a PAP smear in the past two years, and 75 percent of women 40 and older said they had a mammogram.
  • 64 percent of men 50 and over said they'd had a prostate exam or PSA test.
  • 44 percent of adults 50 and over say they've had a colon cancer screening.

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