The Rewards and Challenges of Cancer Communication
At first glance, the phrase "cancer communication" seems deceptively simple. But when you consider the huge amount of information generated about the long list of malignancies that make up the singular term "cancer," and couple that with the size and diversity of the audience affected by cancer, it becomes quite complex.
Despite this complexity, we know that there are effective ways to communicate about cancer - methods that differ depending on the audience involved. A cancer researcher who wants to collaborate with colleagues, for example, has different communication needs than a health educator who is trying to implement a cancer prevention program in a disadvantaged community.
This special issue of the NCI Cancer Bulletin discusses just a few examples of new and effective ways for different audiences to communicate about cancer, and some of the NCI-funded research on effective communication. It also provides resources to help those in the cancer community to communicate with colleagues, health care providers, family, and community members.
NCI's communication efforts are rooted in the National Cancer Act of 1971, which initially directed NCI to develop programs for rapid dissemination of cancer research knowledge to the scientific community. This was later broadened to include cancer patients and their families, health professionals, and the public.
Indeed, the remarkable pace of change and advancement in cancer research has made our stake in communication vitally important. Researchers, community oncologists, and other providers face a constantly changing landscape of cancer prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and survivorship. And the public is regularly bombarded with news about cancer that they often must interpret on their own.
Clearly, NCI and the cancer community have an important role in disseminating accurate and helpful information, and also in making resources available to our partners who do the same. This is a huge task that NCI takes very seriously.
Since its launch in 1976, for example, NCI's Cancer Information Service (CIS) has answered more than 10 million calls from the public, patients, and health care providers about everything from clinical trials to new treatments. And the Physician Data Query (PDQ®) was launched in 1983 to provide peer-reviewed, regularly updated summaries on important cancer topics for physicians and patients.
Of course, the Internet has dramatically altered how we develop and disseminate information about cancer - a trend exemplified by the increasing number of individuals who have launched "blogs" to capture their experiences as cancer patients and share them with millions of people. In fact, cancer researchers are studying how blogs, such as those hosted by the Association of Cancer Online Resources (www.acor.org/support.html), are being used by and ultimately how they affect cancer patients. And NCI continues to find new ways to harness the communications advantages offered by the Internet, such as the recent launch of NCI Listens and Learns (http://ncilistens.cancer.gov/) to collect feedback directly from the cancer community on some of our most pressing issues.
We have vigorously responded to the communication mandate of the National Cancer Act. But, as several studies of public attitudes and beliefs about cancer indicate, we still have work to do. At NCI, we are committed to working with the cancer community to educate and inform all those with a stake in eliminating the suffering and death due to cancer. And that includes just about everybody.
Dr. Andrew C. von Eschenbach