The use of psychological theory to understand factors influencing health outcomes among patients with chronic diseases provides medical practitioners with data on prevention and treatment options. Such theories have been used in popular models of health promotion such as the Health Belief Model (HBM), shown in the figure below. A large body of research suggests that self-efficacy predicts the performance of health promotion behaviors such as exercise and routine cancer screenings. Perceived susceptibility, or perceptions of how likely one is to contract a disease based on population prevalence and personal salience of the disease, similarly predicts the performance of health promotion behaviors. Regarding cancer, research suggests that women in developing countries may be more at risk of malignant breast cancer when compared to women in developed countries due to low screening rates and late detection. Evidence also suggests that women in developing nations contract breast cancer much earlier in life than women in developed countries, making the use of routine breast self-examinations critical in protecting the health of women in developing countries.
A study aimed at understanding cancer screening behavior among 400 Iranian women found that 8% performed regular self-examinations, and that the Health Belief Model was a good fit statistically with the data collected. This longitudinal study used socio-demographic, cancer knowledge, and HBM variables to predict practices related to breast self-examination. Perceived self-efficacy and perceived benefits most strongly predicted whether women performed examinations, and results suggested that modifying variables impacted exam practices indirectly through self-efficacy.
Figure 1. The Health Belief Model.
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