In a new study, researchers have validated the 'Escala de Preocupación por el Cáncer – EPC' (an equivalent of the Cancer Worry Scale) to evaluate the fear of suffering from cancer. The study, published in Medicina Clínica, has revealed that the EPC is a valid and reliable scale for evaluating concern about cancer in healthy people.

When a person has a family history of cancer, their worry about developing the disease may lead to them refusing to have preventive tests. Advice from genetic counselling units reduces their anxiety but, until now, nobody knew how much.

Genetic counselling is the right kind of tool for reducing the worries. However, until now there has been no tool for evaluating the effectiveness of this initiative, nor any instrument to evaluate the fear of suffering from cancer.

Ignacio Blanco, an author of the study said, “I could say that genetic counselling works well, but I couldn't measure this. I had accessed the EPC and found that the degree of patients' concern does not increase following the counselling – quite the contrary.”

EPC the first of its kind in the Spanish language is a translation and a cultural adaptation of the English-language Cancer Worry Scale: six questions that measure concern on a scale ranging from 6 (the least) to 24 (the highest level).

The research study was carried out on 212 healthy women without any family history of breast cancer who attended the ICO Genetic Counselling Unit. Before the experts studied their family trees, the patients answered the test questions.

Several days after the genetic counselling, the researchers once again distributed the scales to analyse the effectiveness of this tool. One of the advantages of this tool is that it can be used in any of the branches of medicine that a patient seeks help from – psychology, oncology or even general medicine.

The scale can be used in primary health care as a filtering instrument among the healthy population to identify individuals with high levels of concern about cancer, the researchers said. The simplicity of the questions and the answers make it possible to easily objectify something that is difficult to measure.

The tool has shown itself to be effective in alerting healthcare professionals to certain healthy patients who are unwilling to undergo preventive testing. On many occasions, their fears are related to their decision about whether or not to take preventive measures that would help them avoid cancer or diagnose it a very early stage.

The researchers concluded that the tool will be useful for comparing and understanding the factors that affect the degree to which different groups of people worry. This would also make it possible to customise educational initiatives to improve people's quality of life.