Are radiation oncologists aware of health literacy among people with cancer treated with radiotherapy?

L. M. Petrak, H. M. Dhillon, C. G. Milross, Sian K. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (SciVal)


Health literacy skills are important for people affected by cancer as they are exposed to complex treatment and follow-up care information. This study aimed to (1) explore radiation oncologists' understandings and awareness of health literacy among patients with a reasonable command of English; (2) gain insight into oncologists' views regarding health literacy; and (3) identify techniques oncologists employ to communicate to different literacy populations. We conducted semi-structured interviews with 26 radiation oncologists. Four key themes were identified: (1) identifying a patient's literacy level; (2) perceived impact of literacy; (3) challenges and strategies to communicating concepts and supporting decision-making; and (4) suggested improvements to the health system. Participants described subjectively assessing a person's literacy level by monitoring the types of questions asked; analysing the language used; examining non-verbal behaviour, and considering a person's socio-economic situation. Participants reported the challenges of discussing the subtleties of cancer treatments with lower literacy groups such as the benefits and risks of treatment options and clinical trials, and tended to provide the basic facts to facilitate understanding. Radiation oncologists acknowledged the importance of health literacy in oncology, and employed a number of techniques to tailor their communication to different literacy populations. Further research is needed to address the challenges faced by oncologists when interacting with different literacy groups.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)111-120
Number of pages10
JournalEuropean Journal of Cancer Care
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014


  • Doctor-patient relations
  • Health literacy
  • Patient comprehension
  • Qualitative research
  • Radiation oncology
  • Radiotherapy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology


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