Centers Explore New Communications Methods
NCI launched the Centers of Excellence in Cancer Communications Research (CECCR) initiative in 2003. The four centers provide the infrastructure for interdisciplinary teams to promote advances in cancer communications, develop interventions, translate theory into practice, and train health communicators. NCI awarded each center $10 million over 5 years.
At the University of Michigan, Dr. Victor Strecher is developing a model for health behavior interventions that applies to all sociodemographic groups in the United States. One project explores ways of communicating risk about tamoxifen prophylaxis to women at high risk for breast cancer.
At the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Robert Hornik is examining how people make sense of complex information and how that affects their health choices. One project is developing a descriptive model and specific measures of cancer-related information searching and scanning behavior in the general population, and determining whether this behavior is associated with post-diagnosis treatment choices, as well as with changes in cancer screening and prevention behavior.
At Saint Louis University, Dr. Matthew Kreuter is studying cancer communication among African Americans. One project is analyzing African American newspapers across the country to determine the frequency and nature of their coverage of cancer-related stories, and developing and testing a computer-based intervention to enhance cancer coverage in these newspapers by contributing community-specific stories and data on cancer.
And at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Dr. David Gustafson is advancing interactive cancer communications to improve the quality of life of patients and families. Projects examine whether Comprehensive Health Enhancement Support Systems improve cancer outcomes and survivorship experiences.
Researchers, health educators, and communication practitioners know that communicating effectively with the public is essential to realizing population-wide impacts in cancer prevention, early detection, and survivorship. But investigators, who study the relationship between how people get information about cancer and how that information influences health behavior, have been hindered in the past by a lack of nationally available data.
Debuting in 2003 as the first survey of its kind, NCI's Health Information National Trends Survey (HINTS) assesses the American public's need for, access to, and use of cancer information. The data identify changing communication trends and practices; provide updates on changing information patterns, needs, and opportunities; assess cancer information access and usage; and provide insight about how cancer risks are perceived.
A HINTS article published in February's Tobacco Control reveals, for example, that smokers underestimate their relative risk of lung cancer compared with nonsmokers and, contrary to previous surveys, believe they personally have a lower risk of developing lung cancer than the average smoker. In addition, HINTS reveals that many current and former smokers incorrectly agree with several myths about smoking and health - with more than half agreeing that exercise undoes most of tobacco's negative effects.
The HINTS Web site (http://hints.cancer.gov) was launched in February 2004. "Since then, we've been using our own advances in informatics technology to change the way that cancer control researchers are doing business," said Dr. Bradford W. Hesse, acting chief of NCI's Health Communication and Informatics Research Branch. In 2005, the site introduced a number of new tools to allow users easy, direct access to nationally representative data for every item on the survey. To date, more than 100 researchers have used HINTS data to conduct their own research.
NCI's Cancer Information Service (CIS) may be best known for its toll-free information line, but its cancer control efforts delve further into minority and medically underserved populations via its far-reaching partnership program. "We bring technical assistance and evidence-based program planning expertise and the partners give us access to populations most in need," said Madeline La Porta, deputy director of CIS.
Some 70 field staff in CIS's 15 regional offices establish and maintain partnerships across the country. They look to further the goals of NCI - eliminating cancer health disparities, recruiting for clinical trials, and preventing cancer - according to the needs of their region. Comprehensive cancer control plans for states, tribes, and territories guide the process.
There are more than 1,000 CIS partners, including cancer control coalitions, state and local health departments, academic institutions, patient alliances, health professional organizations, insurance companies, nonprofit community groups, and labor unions. A sampling of specific projects that the partners have undertaken include: