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Cancer and health literacy: establishing a concept of cancer literacy



Schulz P. J.



Diviani N.



Health literacy is an often overlooked problem in preventing, diagnosing and treating all kinds of cancer. Many people are shown to have low literacy skills and health competences. As patients, such individuals are at a disadvantage in their capacity to obtain, process, and understand cancer information and preventive services needed to make appropriate decisions. Patients with poor health literacy have a complex array of difficulties with written and oral communication that may limit their understanding of cancer screening and of symptoms of cancer, adversely affecting their stage at diagnosis. Studies have shown that an individual´s health literacy may be an important predictor of increased cancer risk and poor participation in cancer control programs. While the concept of health literacy has gained widespread acceptance in the field of health communication over the last fifteen years, there is an increasing need to specify the concept of health literacy within the area of cancer prevention. The proposed research seeks to do both, to operationalize a usable and defined concept of health literacy, and to specify it with regard to one of the major health threats, cancer. The leading research questions are: What abilities and attitude make a person cancer literate? What does a lay person need to know in order to be considered literate in cancer prevention? How cancer literate is the Swiss population? The planned study will help define the most health illiterate and cancer illiterate segments of the population and produce information on the best ways to reach these segments in communication campaigns. It will also contribute to finding out which aspects of health and cancer literacy are most in need of improvement. This will help designing information campaigns that are targeted to where the deficiencies are.

Additional information

Start date
End date
24 Months
Funding sources
Research areas
S265 Press and communication sciences
S290 Social medecine