Cancer Rated Top Health Care Concern Among Americans

National Health Checkup finds that cancer beat out infectious diseases as the biggest concern.

A Mayo Clinic survey revealed that cancer beat out the Zika virus as the most significant health care challenge in the United States.

The survey is part of the Mayo Clinic National Health Checkup launched in January this year, and provides information on consumer health opinions and behaviors multiple times throughout the year.

“With the most recent pulse, we explored consumer perceptions about hot topics in health care, cancer, brain health, and sleep,” said John T. Wald, MD, medical director for Public Affairs at Mayo Clinic. “At Mayo Clinic, we feel that we have a responsibility to help lead the conversation about health and wellness, and empower people to make healthy choices. This research helps to shape that dialogue.”

Some of the main findings from the survey included that people who believe the most progress in health care has been achieved with heart disease and the least with obesity; health care will influence the presidential vote by 95% of Americans; Western responders are significantly less interested in a cancer vaccine; almost two-thirds of baby boomers are concerned about brain health; and half of Americans are able to get a good night’s sleep less than half of the time.

Although survey respondents reported cancer as the most important health care challenge, almost three-quarters believe that at least some progress was being made to address this issue. Eighty-three percent of Americans were most likely to report that progress was being made with heart disease, while 52% were least likely to answer that progress was being made with obesity.

Researchers noted, however, that black and Hispanic respondents were twice as likely as white respondents to say that progress was being made with obesity. As always, health care appears to play a role in the upcoming 2016 election, with nearly 95% of respondents stating that one of the following issues would influence their vote of a presidential candidate: lowering health care costs, improving the quality of health care, improving access to health care, and increasing funding for medical research.

In regards to cancer vaccines, 84% of overall respondents expressed their interest. However, those in the West were significantly more likely than those in the Northeast, Midwest, or South, to say that they would be interested in receiving a vaccine.

The “scariest cancer” to have according to respondents was brain cancer, while colon and skin cancers were considered the least scary.

“A cancer diagnosis is scary for anyone, no matter the type,” Wald said. “The positive thing is that early detection and treatment can significantly improve patient outcomes, and we have excellent screenings for many of these cancers. Today the 5-year survival rate for all breast cancers is 91% in large part because of early detection and advances in treatment.”

Brain health is also a concern for many, but unsurprisingly, the concern was significantly higher for baby boomers (63%), compared with millennials (48%) and Generation X (52%). However, a majority (84%) of respondents agreed it is normal to start forgetting things as you continue to age.

While most respondents believed that memory starts to decline in your 50s or 60s, more young respondents (18- to 45-years-old) answered that memory declines in your 30s and 40s, and almost half of older respondents age 65 and older answered that it declines in your 70s, 80s, and 90s.

When it comes to health, ample sleep is important, but in the survey, 49% reported that they get a good night’s sleep half of the time, or less. A good night’s sleep was defined by 72% of respondents as 7 or 8 hours. More men (24%) than women (16%), and more people who lived in the Northeast (27%) than Midwest (15%), considered 6 or less hours to be a good night’s sleep.

It’s important to note that how often an individual gets a good night’s sleep is not impacted by whether there are children in the house, although some may disagree. To compensate for the days when the respondents were running on empty from lack of a good night’s sleep, 58% said they drank more water, 54% drank caffeine, 45% ate healthier foods, and 43% engaged in exercise.

“Somewhat surprisingly, the biggest motivator for prioritizing sleep was ‘improving mood,’ which beat out options such as ‘extending life span’ and ‘preventing neurological diseases, such as dementia,’” Wald said. “This seems to support the idea that Americans are focused on the immediate, rather than long-term impact of their actions, which is helpful in how we look to positively influence consumer health behaviors.”

To see the full health infographic click here.