Jennifer Hay, Ph.D.

Attending Psychologist

Project Title

Addressing Low Awareness of the Cancer Harms of Alcohol in the Population

Named Award

Congressional Families Program


Attending Psychologist


Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, N.Y.

My “Why”

I was interested in cancer research from a young age. I lost my father to advanced melanoma when I was quite young, so cancer was a common topic of family discussion. In college, I studied immunology and became fascinated by the role of human behavior in the development of diseases including cancer and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). It was the importance of behavior to illness prevention that propelled me into my current work, which focuses on understanding risk perceptions that motivate cancer prevention behavior.

My Mission

As a psychologist and behavioral scientist, I am interested in cancer prevention because thoughts, emotions and behaviors play an important role in whether people follow through with their physician’s recommendations for preventing and screening for cancer. There is great promise in using behavioral science principles to improve cancer prevention efforts by encouraging patients to adopt actions to stay healthy over the long haul, and I value being a part of that effort.

Research Overview

There is well-established evidence that people who drink alcohol face some elevated cancer risk. Alcohol is responsible for 6% of cancer cases in the U.S. and is only outpaced by tobacco use and excess body weight as cancer risk factors. Alcohol is considered a Group 1 carcinogen, which is the highest level of risk. But 70% of the U.S. population is unaware that drinking causes cancer. Current standard public health messages regarding the cancer harms of alcohol use have not significantly increased population awareness.

This study will identify how best to increase drinkers’ awareness of the increased cancer risk from alcohol use. This project will identify population groups that require targeted messages, determine the content needed for effective messages and eventually develop the novel messages. Overcoming barriers to alcohol and cancer risk awareness will allow drinkers to make more fully informed choices about their alcohol consumption and will be vital for cancer prevention efforts.

This project has potential for high population impact, given the  low levels of population awareness of the cancer risk from alcohol use combined with the current high rates of alcohol use in the U.S.

Why Funding Matters

Funding [from the Prevent Cancer Foundation] matters because there are widespread gaps in awareness of the cancer risk from alcohol use in the U.S., even among health-conscious individuals. Currently, 70% of the U.S. population is unaware that drink alcohol leads to an elevated risk in developing cancer. Yet, there has been little research to identify and confront these communication challenges.

Funding is critical for the development of diverse strategies to best inform the public about the harms of alcohol use.

My Hope

My hope is that we will soon have the appropriate health knowledge and tools necessary for all members of the U.S. population to make fully informed choices about alcohol use for themselves and their families.

The project will allow us to lay the groundwork for a larger study to confirm which messages are most informative and effective before disseminating the best and most effective messages across the U.S.