Importance of health literacy in oncology

Asia Pac J Clin Oncol. 2012 Mar;8(1):14-23. doi: 10.1111/j.1743-7563.2012.01522.x.


Health literacy refers to one's ability to obtain, process and understand health information and services to enable sound health decision-making. This is an area of increasing importance due to the complexity of the health system, especially in the cancer setting. A certain level of health literacy is required for patients to fully understand health information and services to make sound decisions about their health care, including decisions about screening and treatment. Previous research has suggested that a significant proportion of the population may have limited health literacy. Suboptimal health literacy is an independent risk factor for poor health outcomes, including increased risk of hospitalization. Cancer patients with poor health literacy may have misconceptions about their disease and ineffective communication with their health professionals, leading to unnecessary interventions, under-treatment or poor adherence to their treatment plans. In addition, cancer patients who have a poor understanding of their disease may experience greater anxiety and be more dissatisfied with their care. Various strategies have been suggested to assist cancer patients with low health literacy. However, more work needs to be done to support all cancer patients with varying levels of health literacy, thus enhancing health experiences and health outcomes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Decision Making*
  • Health Literacy*
  • Humans
  • Medical Oncology*