Integration of Cancer Literacy in National Cancer Control Plans – a policy analysis

The aim of this study was to conduct a systematic analysis of National Cancer Control Plans (NCCPs) in Europe and beyond regarding health literacy and cancer literacy. According to the WHO a national cancer control programme (NCCP) is a public health programme designed to reduce the number of cancer cases and deaths and improve quality of life of cancer patients. Health literacy refers to how people access, understand, appraise and apply information to form judgement and make decisions regarding healthcare, disease prevention and health promotion to maintain and improve quality of life during the life course. Cancer literacy is critically important for cancer patients who must make a complex set of diagnostic and treatment-based decisions at times of physical and emotional distress. Yet, it is unclear to what extent cancer literacy is reflected in cancer strategies such as the NCCPs.

Methods: The study design includes a policy analysis of NCCPs of the EU. NCCPs were retrieved August to November 2018 from online portals such as the International Cancer Control Partnership and Google as well as through key informants specialised in public health and health literacy.

 Results: The data collection yielded 45 NCCPs of which 31 originated from the EU Member States. Six out of 45 NCCPs included the term health literacy. The countries concerned Austria, Belgium, Germany, Portugal, New Zealand and Maryland, the U.S. Only one focused on cancer literacy.

 Conclusion: The study showed that health literacy is not yet commonly implemented as part of NCCPs in Europe and beyond. The countries who actively mentioned health literacy, were all countries where health literacy is on the health agenda in various ways. More policy action is warranted to follow up on the study.

 Keywords: Health literacy, cancer literacy, policy analysis, national cancer control plans