Misinterpretations

According to cognitive models of anxiety (see below), misinterpretation of health information can be an important aetiological factor in health anxiety. There is considerable evidence that some people misunderstand the meaning of their screening test result. A positive result from cervical screening is often misinterpreted as meaning that cancer has already developed, which is likely to account for the high levels of anxiety that can occur after a positive smear result. In a study where women with a family history of breast cancer were given individualized breast cancer risk counselling, it was found that almost two-thirds of the women continued to extremely overestimate their risks at the 3-month follow-up.3.' Rubin and Cummings(35) report that in a retrospective study of women who had undergone densitometry, only 85 per cent of self-reported below-average (i.e. higher-risk) results were confirmed by the densitometry results of the hospital. In contrast, after Huntington's disease testing, Codori and Brandt(23) report that those with a high-risk result often underestimate their chances of developing the condition, particularly at follow-up assessment.

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