Educating Patients About Cancer Should Not Be a ‘One-Size-Fits-All’ Approach, Says Expert

When it comes to learning about their disease, patients with cancer can have different preferences, from wanting to discuss treatments with their providers or read handouts, while others may not want to know much at all.

When it comes to educating patients and family members about lung cancer, there is no one-size-fits-all approach, and health literacy — which indicates how well someone can understand health information to better make informed decisions about their care — does not always correlate with education levels, according to Livia Szeto, B.S.N., a nurse navigator at the University of Chicago, and a finalist for CURE®’s 2022 Extraordinary Healer® award.

Some patients may prefer one-on-one learning about their disease, where they sit down with their clinicians and discuss what they can expect, whereas others may want handouts to read at home. Szeto also mentioned that some patients do not want to know much about their cancer, which she stressed is also OK.


(In) taking care of patients, surprisingly, I actually can do a lot of education, teaching the patient teaching the family and also using the words that they actually understand … Adult teaching is very different from teaching students, because he's not a one size fit all … You have to really find out their educational level, and health literacy.

Health literacy not does not equal their educational level. So even though (someone may) come in with a very high educational background, it’s not necessarily that that individual has a high health literacy. So, you need to take into that consideration.

A lot of times, our educational material have to be (in a) fifth- to sixth-grade level, because we want to make sure all patients and family members understood the information that we are providing to the patients.

And some patients … for their methods of teaching, they may not want to be to one to one; they may only want to (to receive) handout, (and say) “I'll read it at home.” That's totally fine. And then if that if patients I decided to do that route, I'm OK with that, but I do want to follow up with a phone call usually in a few days later (and say) “OK, it gave you the information. Did you have a chance to read it over? Do you have any questions?” So I usually do want to follow up with that. And some patient they just don't basically I don't want to know. It's OK. Just call me if you have any questions or each time when I when we see a patient and we'll just like verbally educate a patient at that time.

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