In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Cancer Communication Strategies in North America

  • Introduction
  • Reference Texts
  • Theory
  • Communication Strategies and Messaging Techniques
  • Cancer Risk Communication
  • Scaling Up: Translation, Dissemination, and CBPR

Public Health Cancer Communication Strategies in North America
Rachel McCloud Faulkenberry
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 May 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 May 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756797-0098


Cancer communication is defined as the study and application of messages delivered through selective media channels that include individual actors, institutions, social networks, intervention settings, and media sources of all sizes to convey relevant cancer information to targeted audiences: such as sections of the general public, those at heightened cancer risk, cancer patients, survivors, or caregivers. These varied channels of communication are often a crucial information delivery mechanism to impart cancer messages across the cancer continuum, from prevention through survivorship or end of life. The nature of these cancer messages may change based on the characteristics of the receiver and can include an array of topics from information on screening, risk, and treatment, to topics of coping or how to obtain tangible resources. Throughout this entry, articles and texts have been chosen that have been key in producing effective cancer communication. For example, information exchange occurring between patient-caregiver dyads or through social support networks is emphasized as an important avenue for influencing prevention, treatment, and coping behaviors. The power of mass media is also discussed, exploring how these channels can be utilized to bring about behavior change and highlighting the promise of online communication. Information seeking and scanning behaviors related to mass media are explored, and differences in these behaviors by varied socioeconomic groups are presented. Other sections highlight factors to consider when designing messages, including utilizing theory, communicating risk, and employing diverse messaging strategies to increase comprehension and reach. Cancer communication interventions are also discussed in a larger context, such as designing for dissemination and considering community and structural characteristics during the design phase. However, the article issues a caution throughout; health disparities can either be addressed or increased through communication. Discussed are the challenges for reaching all audiences with cancer information, and the ways in which current communications may fall short of reaching the needs of all groups. Reviews, commentaries, and book chapters that recognize the need to create communication that is relevant, culturally appropriate, and delivered through the appropriate channels to reach the ideal audience have been chosen to contribute to each of the sections. Works included in this entry are taken from all areas of the cancer continuum and indicate the impact of communication from prevention to the end of life. Since the majority of the burden of cancer is found in older adults, special attention is also given to the area of cancer communication for the aging population. Articles discussing the changing communication landscape have been included to illustrate the way the field must adapt quickly to new opportunities and challenges put forth by the growth of technology.

Reference Texts

A number of texts have explored how both health communication and cancer communication can be harnessed for behavior change among diverse populations. Each of the reference texts in this section contains valuable information such as examples, methodology, theory, and specific communication techniques to guide cancer communication efforts. For example, Thompson, et al. 2011 provides a comprehensive discourse on the field with entries that are appropriate for novice or veteran researchers. Rutten, et al. 2011 draws from the widely used Health Informational National Trends Survey (HINTS), a US-based, nationally representative survey, to provide a guide on how to use national data sets to explore cancer communication questions. Two more general resources concerning the larger field of health communication also contain valuable information for constructing health messages. Institute of Medicine 2002 provides an overview of the use of theory, illustrating points with cancer-related examples. Hornik 2002 also provides studies from a myriad of fields to illustrate communications theory and concepts. Zarcadoolas, et al. 2006 provides a deeper look into the issue of health literacy, providing general challenges in the field, specific examples of how literacy applies to different populations, and guidelines for more effectively reaching low-literacy audiences.

  • Hornik, Robert. 2002. Public health communication: Evidence for behavior change. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

    Argues the case that public health communication has affected health behavior by bringing together sixteen studies of large-scale communication in a variety of substantive health areas. Includes approaches to developing communication interventions and alternative methods for evaluation of public health communication projects.

  • Institute of Medicine. 2002. Speaking of health: Assessing health communication strategies for diverse populations. Washington, DC: National Academies.

    Provides guidance for addressing the challenges of delivering messages to different audiences. Discusses theories of communication and behavior change and provides a case study regarding mammography use, comparing the effectiveness of messages in different populations. Gives a good sense of the importance of context and theory when designing communication strategies.

  • Rutten, Lila J. F., B. Hesse, R. P. Moser, and G. L. Kreps, eds. 2011. Building the evidence base in cancer communication. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton.

    A volume discussing methodological issues, health disparities, and future work in health communication and informatics research. The book engages with the Health Information National Trends Survey, a survey exploring the information needs, information-seeking patterns, and health behaviors of a nationally representative sample. Provides specific data examples and lessons learned from three administrations of the survey.

  • Thompson, Teresa L., R. Parrott, and J. F. Nussbaum, eds. 2011. The Routledge handbook of health communication. New York: Routledge.

    Contains chapters from contributing authors (including top researchers) that explore communication research and practice. Sections provide a thorough background of the methods, information sources, and technologies that represent the current state of the science. This text provides both an introductory view of communication and indicates directions for future research.

  • Zarcadoolas, Christina, A. Pleasant, and D. Greer, eds. 2006. Advancing health literacy: A framework for understanding and action. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

    A thorough text of the development and rise of health literacy, including definitions of literacy and how it functions within both the written and spoken word. Chapters also delve into implications for health literacy in different media channels, including mass media and the Internet and provide specific examples of health literacy within certain cultural and cancer-specific contexts.

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