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The Importance of Health Literacy in Cancer Care

Fox Chase Cancer Center

March 3, 2022

The Importance of Health Literacy in Cancer Care

A diagnosis of a serious disease like cancer can be overwhelming in so many ways. Coming to terms with that diagnosis and comprehending what lies ahead can be even more difficult if we have trouble processing and understanding the health information needed to make decisions about care.

You may think the definition of health literacy is the ability to read health information. But it is much more than that. It’s actually the key to taking charge of our health.

“Health literacy is being able to comprehend and utilize information so that people can make informed decisions and participate in their own healthcare,” said Evelyn González, senior director, Office of Community Outreach at Fox Chase Cancer Center. “So it’s not as simple as just reading. It’s about being able to apply what you are reading to your medical situation (critical thinking) and then navigating a healthcare system.”

And that navigation can be difficult without good health literacy. “Even people who are educated or work in the healthcare field can be challenged by it,” said Stephanie Raivitch, director, health communication programs, Office of Community Outreach at Fox Chase.

Why health literacy is necessary

A comprehensive understanding of your condition and treatment options is vital because it can impact your ability to safely make decisions and follow recommendations. This can affect how successful your treatment is.

“Health literacy is a greater predictor of health status than many other factors, including age, education level, income, and racial and ethnic background,” Raivitch said. “The better people can understand and participate in their healthcare, the better their outcomes.”