There is an extensive amount of information in the popular press about cancer risk factors. The volume and sometimes contradictory nature of this information makes it difficult for individuals to understand their own level of risk or how one risk factor compares with another. The Harvard Cancer Risk Index (HCRI) was developed by an interdisciplinary working group of epidemiologists and behavioral scientists to educate the public about the major risk factors associated with the 11 most common forms of cancer in the United States. Following the development and validation of the HCRI, we initiated a qualitative research study to obtain initial feedback on the wording and presentation of the index and to elicit information regarding the meaning of risks, perception of cancer, and interpretation of the HCRI results. The results indicated that the HCRI was well received by participants and that they highly regarded the inclusion of information related to the latest risks for cancer and the description of the mechanisms by which these factors impact on risk. Personalization of the risk score helped participants to focus on behaviors that they could change. However, dissatisfaction with the HCRI was noted by some participants because exposures they believed to be important were not included (e.g., poverty, toxic waste, air pollution). Evaluation of the impact of the index on intention to change provided preliminary evidence that this may be an effective toll for helping mobilize individuals toward change across a number of risk factors. Further quantitative evaluation of the HCRI is planned.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)181-193
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Health Communication
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1999


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