What makes cancer survivor stories work? An empirical study among African American women

J Cancer Surviv. 2008 Mar;2(1):33-44. doi: 10.1007/s11764-007-0041-y. Epub 2008 Feb 7.


Introduction: Cancer survivors play a vital role in cancer control as messengers of hope and information, and advocates for prevention and screening. Understanding what makes survivor stories effective can enhance survivor-delivered programs and interventions.

Methods: By random assignment and using a cross-classified design, 200 African American women viewed videotaped stories (n = 300) from 36 African American breast cancer survivors. Analyses examined effects of story attributes (narrative quality, health message strength), participant characteristics (ways of knowing, experience with breast cancer) and identification with the survivor on women's: (1) level of engagement in the story; (2) positive thoughts about the story; and, (3) remembering key messages about breast cancer and mammography in the story.

Results: Participant characteristics were significant predictors of all three study outcomes, accounting for 27.8, 2.6 and 22.2% of their total variance, respectively. In comparison, the variability in these outcomes that could be attributed to differences in the stories was small (0.6, 1.1 and 2%, respectively). The effects of participant characteristics on level of engagement and positive thoughts were mediated by identification with the survivor.

Conclusions: The best predictor of a woman becoming engaged in a breast cancer survivor's story and having positive thoughts about the story was whether she liked the survivor and viewed her as similar to herself (i.e., identification).

Implications for cancer survivors: Survivor stories may be most effective when audience members identify with the survivor. Finding key characteristics that can reliably match the two will advance cancer communication science and practice.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect*
  • African Continental Ancestry Group / psychology*
  • Aged
  • Breast Neoplasms / physiopathology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Character*
  • Educational Status
  • Emotions*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Income
  • Mammography
  • Middle Aged
  • Missouri
  • Survivors / psychology*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • United States
  • Urban Population
  • Women*