Pink ribbons, pap smears, and Tom Green: Conceptions and misconceptions of breast, cervical, and testicular cancers among college students at the University of Connecticut

Date of Completion

January 2004


Health Sciences, Public Health|Education, Health




Although the majority of cancers affect people more as they get older, young people are still at risk for several potentially deadly cancers, including breast, cervical, and testicular cancers. Risk for breast cancer increases with age, but the age at diagnosis is lowering. Diagnostic techniques allow for earlier detection of breast cancers at their most treatable stages, often found in young women. Cervical cancer is currently most often diagnosed in women in their 20s and 30s thanks to enhanced screening techniques that can detect the disease very early, often before the cells have become invasive. Testicular cancer is a disease of young men, most often diagnosed between ages 20 and 40, and incidence rates are on the rise. It is currently unknown what college age men and women know about these three cancers. For this reason, any potential educational materials cannot be designed specifically for these groups. 3362 college students at the University of Connecticut (UConn) were surveyed during the 2002–2003 school year to determine knowledge of risk factors, diagnostic options, and treatment options, as well as beliefs about mortality and prevention. In addition, a total of 12 focus groups (62 students) were conducted to determine a general explanatory model for these diseases and potential routes of cancer education. Students were found to have little biomedical knowledge of any of these cancers and explanatory models focused on “buzz” words from the media, such as “chemotherapy” and “Pap smears”, with no real understanding of what these terms mean. A broad-based education about cancer and reproductive cancers in general is suggested. Based on students' ideas about education, an Internet-based intervention was tested as a class assignment. It was found that college students are willing to learn about health issues on the Internet and that their knowledge base can be enhanced through simple class assignments on-line. Further suggestions are made for the culturally-appropriate education of college students about breast, cervical, and testicular cancers. ^