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Patient Education Key In The Fight Against Cancer


Janet Papadakos

Cancer Education Program,
Princess Margaret Hospital


Dr. Meredith Giuliani

Princess Margaret Hospital

In Canada, over 200,000 new cases of cancer occurred last year, with almost 79,000 expected deaths caused by cancer  in the same time frame. The incidence of cancer in Canada is rising, and approximately two out of five Canadians will develop cancer in their lifetime. The majority of these individuals are 65 and older — which is also the age group at greatest risk for low health literacy.

Health literacy matters

Research on the role of health literacy on cancer self-management and health care utilization shows that there has been little support for individuals within health care systems globally who have low health literacy and are affected by cancer.

In contrast, in diabetes and other chronic diseases, self-management strategies have been developed to mitigate the effects of low health literacy — including the development of curricula to train patients and clinicians. These interventions have led to measureable improvements in clinical outcomes. An important, unanswered question is whether similar strategies will be effective in cancer.

Educate and engaging cancer patients

The Princess Margaret Cancer Health Literacy Research Centre aims to investigate the influence of health literacy on cancer care and its outcomes, and to develop strategies for better engagement of patients in their care.

Cancer self-management has a unique set of demands and supports that distinguish it from self-management of other chronic diseases. Unlike most self-management focused on the post-treatment phase of health care, cancer self-management behaviours are significant in the acute phase of cancer care.

Cancer patients and caregivers must process large volumes of information to aid in the decision-making processes, as well as adhere to complex treatment regimens, coordinate their care with multiple health care professionals, and manage symptoms of cancer and its treatment — all the while managing the emotional impact of a cancer diagnosis.

It is important to investigate the role of low health literacy, specifically in the cancer setting. The identification of the factors associated with a cancer patient’s ability to self-manage their disease would enable the optimization of strategies to mitigate adverse effects.

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