13 October 2020

New study to examine lifestyle among Danes with increased cancer risk


A collaboration between Hvidovre Hospital and the Department of Anthropology will uncover how people who are predisposed to hereditary bowel cancer relate to recommendations on cancer-preventive health behaviour and participation in surveillance programs.

Apple and doctor
Photo: Colourbox

A healthy lifestyle and adherence to guidelines for diagnosis and follow-up controls can help prevent the development of cancer in people with hereditary Lynch syndrome, a gene mutation that entails a greatly increased risk of developing especially bowel cancer, but also cancer of the abdomen.

But what specific health behaviours do families living with Lynch syndrome have, and how do they respond to recommendations for healthier lifestyles and follow-up surveillance check-ups?

These questions are at the centre of a new research project led by Helle Vendel Petersen from the Clinical Research Center at Hvidovre Hospital in collaboration with Ayo Wahlberg, professor MSO and health anthropologist at the Department of Anthropology.

In addition to mapping the ‘at risk’ group's actual lifestyle, the project will uncover how individuals and families relate to their increased cancer risk, and how this risk affects their thoughts and motivation for a healthier lifestyle and participation in surveillance check-ups.

Ayo Wahlberg will participate in the qualitative part of the study. Through interviews with 10-15 individuals and 5-8 families, he and Helle Vendel Petersen will explore families’:

  • Knowledge about health recommendations and information sources
  • Interpretation of information about internal and external risk factors for Lynch syndrome related cancers
  • Perception of motivational factors and barriers and facilitators for adherence with genetic
    testing and surveillance programs
  • Perception of motivational factors and barriers and facilitators for lifestyle, including diet, smoking, alcohol and physical activity

Ultimately, the goal of the project is to improve the support for people with Lynch syndrome. In collaboration with the affected families, data from the project will be used to develop more targeted interventions.

‘Surveillance life’ has become a daily reality

However, Ayo Wahlberg also sees a broader anthropological perspective as healthcare systems today no longer only focus on the acutely and chronically ill. New biomedical technologies, e.g. genetic technologies or biomarker testing, also catch growing numbers of people who are at risk of serious disease.

“As a result, what we call ‘surveillance life’ has become a daily reality for a large proportion of people in Denmark and internationally,” he explains.

“It is therefore imperative that we gain further insights into how people and their families cope with and act upon the knowledge they receive from healthcare providers about future diseases that likely await,” says Wahlberg.

The study is co-funded by the Danish Cancer Society and runs from 2021 to 2022.