Why healthy patients refuse drugs that reduce the risk of cancer

Would you take a pill every day to reduce the risk of breast cancer?

That’s a question Tara Parker-Pope asks in a recent blog entry. Referring to Tamoxifen, a drug that’s been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer in high-risk women, she notes that a substantial number said they wouldn’t take the drug after hearing about the side effects:

Just 6 percent said they would consider it after talking to their doctors, and only 1 percent reported actually filling a prescription for it. Fully 80 percent cited worries about side effects.

In other words, the benefit of the drug, namely, a marked reduction of breast cancer risk in susceptible women, was markedly outweighed by the small chance of side effects.

The same type of thinking applies to those who oppose childhood vaccines. One interesting reason is so-called “omission bias,” where, “people are more concerned about losing something than they are about gaining something.”

Because of this, researchers are convinced that large numbers of healthy women who can benefit from the drug, will refuse to take it.  You can blame human psychology.