Background:Many people across the world still believe that a cancer diagnosis means certain death. Unfortunately this can significantly impact upon patient compliance to treatment and their treatment decisions. In several countries such as Vietnam up to 60% of patients are never told of their diagnosis which is unthinkable to many but enables the clinician to treat the patient without the burden of managing the psychological burden or the need to spend time explaining terminology and details that are beyond the patient to understand. In essence however this exacerbates the ignorance and does not allow for community learning or the passage of knowledge through families and generations. It also contributes to ongoing poor outcomes.
Aim:To present a quantitative comparison of the current level of cancer literacy or understanding that exists within different cultures to enable development of health education programs to address the identified gaps in areas of potential greatest impact.
Methods:A literature review is used to compare cancer outcomes in different cultures. A survey is then utilised as a tool to assess the level of understanding of cancer terminology, causes, treatments and potential outcomes. This survey data is drawn from 500 people from up to 15 different cultural groups from around the world.
Results: There are a number of factors that influence cancer literacy including prior exposure, location of upbringing, age, education level, and rural or urban habitation. Whilst there are cultural differences these are less predictive of health literacy levels than the other listed factors.
Conclusions: Whilst there are significant health literacy gaps in some cultural groups this cannot be generalised to all persons identifying with that group and we should therefore avoid attributing racial stereotypes to patients. This is only relevant for a person of one culture that has only ever been exposed to that culture.