Friday, October 15, 2010

What Should You Know About Cancer?

A recent paper published in Patient Education and Counseling tries to answer the question: What should a layperson know to be considered "cancer literate"? To do so, the authors assembled a panel of cancer experts (oncologists, GPs, nurses from oncology wards, social workers, public health experts) who refined the answer over a number of rounds. For their purposes, literacy was "the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions." Below is the table of their decisions (click to enlarge)

There are some key areas that are focused on: Aspects of cancer risk, aspects of information/detection, treatments, and coping with cancer/support. Some exclusions make sense, such as how tumours develop or rules for financing screenings, which are secondary to the average person being able to make appropriate health choices. Others are a bit more confusing. For example, knowing about behaviour or environmental factors that contribute to cancer are included in the concept of cancer literacy, but not knowledge about hereditary factors. Likewise, knowing about screening tests and their benefits is included, but not knowledge about groups for whom screening is advised. Cancer symptoms and warning signs also doesn't make the list, nor did limitations of screening, diagnostic procedures, or treatments

What do you think? Keeping in mind the goal is that a cancer literate person be able to recognize the need to consult an expert, but not to become an expert themselves, what should a person know to be considered "cancer literate"?


Rob said...

As you said, I think it is surprising that there wasn't more support for knowledge about hereditary factors and risk groups. If improved public health is the objective I would have ranked these much higher.