Purpose: Fatalism is defined by feelings of pessimism, hopelessness, and powerlessness regarding cancer outcomes. Early researchers reported associations between race and cancer fatalism. Yet current evidence suggests that social determinants of health are better predictors of cancer fatalism than race. Therefore, the aim of this study was to examine the association between age, race, education, and cancer fatalism. Methods: Three hundred ninety (n = 390) women who attended a screening mammogram at the Joanne Knight Breast Health Center at Siteman Cancer Center at Washington University School of Medicine (St. Louis, MO) completed the Powe Fatalism Inventory (PFI), a 15-item self-report instrument used to operationalize cancer fatalism. We used Pearson’s correlation, independent samples t-tests, one-way ANOVA with post hoc tests, and linear regression to analyze the relationships between PFI total scores and age, race, and education. Results: There were no differences between the mean PFI scores for Non-Hispanic Whites (1.89, SD 0.55) and African Americans (2.02, SD 0.76, p = 0.092, 95% CI 0.27 to 0.02). We found significant differences between the mean PFI scores across levels of education. Women who attained a high school degree or less (n = 72) reported higher PFI scores (2.24, SD 0.77) than women who attended some college or post-high school vocational training (n = 111; 1.95, SD 0.61) and women with a college or postgraduate degree (n = 206; 1.83, SD 0.57). When PFI score was regressed onto age, race, and education, only education significantly explained fatalism (B = −0.19, p < 0.001). Conclusions: In this study, cancer fatalism did not differ between Non-Hispanic White and African American women attending a screening mammogram. However, lower educational levels were associated with higher cancer fatalism. The previously observed associations between race and cancer fatalism may be explained by racial disparities in social determinants of health, such as education. Importantly, study findings indicate that the people with the greatest need for cancer fatalism interventions are those with lower educational levels.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)109-118
Number of pages10
JournalCancer Causes and Control
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2021


  • Cancer
  • Education
  • Fatalism
  • Race
  • Screening


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