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Narrative communication in cancer prevention and control: A framework to guide research and application


Narrative forms of communication—including entertainment education, journalism, literature, testimonials, and storytelling—are emerging as important tools for cancer prevention and control. To stimulate critical thinking about the role of narrative in cancer communication and promote a more focused and systematic program of research to understand its effects, we propose a typology of narrative application in cancer control. We assert that narrative has four distinctive capabilities: overcoming resistance, facilitating information processing, providing surrogate social connections, and addressing emotional and existential issues. We further assert that different capabilities are applicable to different outcomes across the cancer control continuum (e.g., prevention, detection, diagnosis, treatment, survivorship). This article describes the empirical evidence and theoretical rationale supporting propositions in the typology, identifies variables likely to moderate narrative effects, raises ethical issues to be addressed when using narrative communication in cancer prevention and control efforts, and discusses potential limitations of using narrative in this way. Future research needs based on these propositions are outlined and encouraged.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Matthew W. Kreuter Ph.D., M.P.H..

Additional information

After the first author, the author order was determined by chance.

This article is a product of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Working Group on Narrative Communication in Cancer Prevention and Control, which received support through NCI’s Centers of Excellence in Cancer Communication Research (CECCR) initiative. Members of the interdisciplinary Working Group represent the fields of anthropology, communication, internal medicine, nursing, public health, social psychology, and social work.

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Kreuter, M.W., Green, M.C., Cappella, J.N. et al. Narrative communication in cancer prevention and control: A framework to guide research and application. ann. behav. med. 33, 221–235 (2007).

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  • Cancer Prevention
  • Behavioral Medicine
  • Narrative Form
  • Cancer Communication
  • Existential Issue