Family and friends with disease:: Their impact on perceived risk

Guy H. Montgomery, Joel Erblich, Terry DiLorenzo, Dana H. Bovbjerg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

86 Scopus citations


Background. For many common diseases, having a family history is the strongest predictor of lifetime risk. Perceptions of personal risk, important for appropriate prevention efforts, have been found to be exaggerated in healthy individuals with family histories. These findings highlight the contribution of objective and experiential factors to perceived risk. This study examined, across a variety of diseases, whether (1) family history of the disease contributes to perceived risk, (2) history of disease in a friend or nonblood relative, which would not increase one's objective risk, nonetheless increases perceived risk, and (3) these effects are similar across genders. Methods. Participants (N = 522; 38% male; 56% Caucasian; mean age = 40 years) completed a brief health survey. Results. Analyses revealed an effect of having a family history of the disease on perceived risk for breast and colon cancers, heart disease, and diabetes (P < 0.001). Interestingly, having a friend diagnosed with the disease also contributed to perceived risk for breast and colon cancers, as well as heart disease and diabetes among women (P < 0.05), but not among men. Conclusions. Results suggest that interventions to alter perceived risk of cancer should account for gender, as women appear to be impacted by who they know.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)242-249
Number of pages8
JournalPreventive Medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2003


  • Breast cancer
  • Colon cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Family history
  • Gender
  • Heart disease
  • Perceived risk
  • Prevention
  • Prostate cancer


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