Narrative communication in cancer prevention and control: a framework to guide research and application

Ann Behav Med. 2007 Jun;33(3):221-35. doi: 10.1007/BF02879904.


Narrative forms of communication-including entertainment education, journalism, literature, testimonials, and storytelling-are emerging as important tools for cancer prevention and control. To stimulate critical thinking about the role of narrative in cancer communication and promote a more focused and systematic program of research to understand its effects, we propose a typology of narrative application in cancer control. We assert that narrative has four distinctive capabilities: overcoming resistance, facilitating information processing, providing surrogate social connections, and addressing emotional and existential issues. We further assert that different capabilities are applicable to different outcomes across the cancer control continuum (e.g., prevention, detection, diagnosis, treatment, survivorship). This article describes the empirical evidence and theoretical rationale supporting propositions in the typology, identifies variables likely to moderate narrative effects, raises ethical issues to be addressed when using narrative communication in cancer prevention and control efforts, and discusses potential limitations of using narrative in this way. Future research needs based on these propositions are outlined and encouraged.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Affect
  • Communication*
  • Ethics, Professional
  • Guidelines as Topic
  • Humans
  • Information Dissemination
  • Narration*
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Research / standards*