Genetic testing for gene mutations associated with specific cancers provides an opportunity for early detection, surveillance, and intervention (Smith, Cokkinides, & Brawley, 2008). Lifetime risk estimates provided by genetic testing refer to the risk of developing a specific disease within one's lifetime, and evidence suggests that this is important for the medical choices people make, as well as their future family and financial plans. The present studies tested whether adult men understand the lifetime risks of prostate cancer informed by genetic testing. In 2 experiments, adult men were asked to interpret the lifetime risk information provided in statements about risks of prostate cancer. Statement format was manipulated such that the most appropriate interpretation of risk statements referred to an absolute risk of cancer in experiment 1 and a relative risk in experiment 2. Experiment 1 revealed that few men correctly interpreted the lifetime risks of cancer when these refer to an absolute risk of cancer, and numeracy levels positively predicted correct responding. The proportion of correct responses was greatly improved in experiment 2 when the most appropriate interpretation of risk statements referred instead to a relative rather than an absolute risk, and numeracy levels were less involved. Understanding of lifetime risk information is often poor because individuals incorrectly believe that these refer to relative rather than absolute risks of cancer.
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