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Cancer Communicators in Latin America Get Support at NCI Workshop

Posted Nov 30 2010 12:00am

Special Issue: Global Collaboration

This is the fifth article in a series of stories related to cancer communications. View a list of articles in this series.

Cancer Communicators in Latin America Get Support at NCI Workshop

More than 40 journalists and communications professionals from five countries in Latin America and the United States met November 11 and 12 at a workshop in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to discuss the challenges of communicating cancer information and research news. The event, titled “Cancer Research in the Media: An Inter-American Workshop on Scientific Journalism,” was sponsored by NCI’s Multicultural and International Communications group in the Office of Communications and Education .

The workshop, which was also supported by the Brazilian National Cancer Institute (INCA) and the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation, attracted attendees from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, and Uruguay. Those nations participate, along with NCI and U.S. researchers, in the United States-Latin America Cancer Research Network (US-LA CRN) , which was launched last year . Workshop participants heard presentations by experts from Latin America and the United States about how to cover and evaluate cancer research studies, new technologies in cancer research and treatment, and updates on US-LA CRN initiatives. The meeting also offered numerous opportunities to network and share lessons learned.

Cláudia Collucci, a participant from Brazil and 20-year veteran of health care journalism, including time as a reporter for the daily Folha de São Paulo newspaper, was impressed by the quality of the presentations, particularly those about clinical research. “Journalists really need tools to better evaluate cancer research studies,” she noted. “The exchanging of experiences with journalists from other countries also helped us to do a self-evaluation of our work and to find other ways to report issues related to cancer.”

A panel of experts discussed communicating cancer research findings to the public and shared lessons they have learned. A panel of experts discusses communicating cancer research findings to the public and shares lessons they have learned.

Collucci participated in a panel discussing “Science and the Media: Communicating Cancer Information to the Public.” The panel focused on the special challenges of informing the public about the latest research findings in understandable, non-technical language that also touches upon the personal and societal impact of cancer. Mar Gonzalo Lopez, a reporter with the EFE Spanish-language news agency, noted, “I always try to be very clear and not use a lot of technical terms and give only a little bit of information that is very understandable by everyone. To do that, I always think about if my mother would understand what I am writing after just one reading of a news article.”

Journalists in Latin America, like those in the United States, rely on experts at their national universities and research institutions for help interpreting the latest cancer research findings. INCA Public Affairs and Communications Division Project Manager Walter Zoss commented, “Our institute is recognized by all kinds of media as a referral center for cancer information in Brazil. We foster a strong and ongoing relationship with journalists from all sectors [TV, print, radio, and internet].”

The need for credible sources in medical reporting is critical in Latin America, Collucci explained. “We face a big challenge in finding reliable, expert sources free of conflicts-of-interest.”

A similar authoritative role in patient education is played by institutions in Latin America, including Chile’s Pontificia Universidad Católica School of Medicine, explained Ana María Bolumburo, US-LA CRN Communications Coordinator. “We produce materials about patient care and disease prevention,” including a monthly newsletter “that includes easily understandable material aimed at teaching people how to care for themselves,” she said.

Journalists interviewed Dr. Jorge Gomez at the workshop to learn more about a new NCI-sponsored breast cancer project in Latin America. Dr. Jorge Gomez from the NCI Office of Latin American Cancer Program Development discusses a new breast cancer project with journalists at the workshop.

Nelvis Castro, associate director of NCI Multicultural and International Communications, said the workshop was “successful both in increasing participants’ understanding of different aspects of cancer research and in providing resources and tools for them to use in the future.”  The Latin American journalists “were very interested in the session on how to evaluate cancer research studies and reporting research results, particularly learning how to apply criteria to evaluate cancer research news stories,” she said, adding that “learning to evaluate other media coverage of cancer research news helps the journalists hone their skills in reporting on cancer topics accurately, effectively, and responsibly.”

The workshop provided participants an opportunity to share best practices and connections to trustworthy, relevant sources that can help them navigate scientific topics. It was also an opportunity for the reporters and editors to learn more about the US-LA CRN’s new breast cancer study in Latin America, Castro noted. A presentation about the study at the workshop has already sparked coverage in El Mercurio, one of Chile’s largest daily newspapers.

NCI and the US-LA CRN are planning follow-up cancer communications support activities, including a similar training workshop for communications professionals at research institutions, hospitals, and health ministries; media training for US-LA CRN National Coordinators in Latin America; and establishment of a network of journalists to continue dialogue and information exchange between the United States and Latin America.

—Bill Robinson and Meghan Byrne

Tools for Communicators

NCI has numerous resources to help journalists and health educators from around the globe understand and share news about cancer research. Here are some examples:

  • In English, NCI provides the Physician Data Query (PDQ), which is a compilation of evidence-based summaries on a wide range of cancer topics, including treatment, genetics, prevention, screening/detection, supportive and palliative care, and complementary and alternative medicine. Many summaries are available in two versions: for patients, and for health professionals. Spanish versions of all of the treatment and the supportive and palliative care summaries (both patient and health professional) are available.
  • NCI’s Cancer Information Service provides general cancer information on the phone at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237) in the United States, through instant-messaging chat sessions, by e-mail, or by mailed correspondence. Information specialists can answer questions in English or in Spanish.
  • NCI’s Office of Media Relations has a newscenter for announcements about upcoming seminars and events, and other helpful media resources.
  • NCI’s Multicultural Media Outreach Program is a resource for journalists who are seeking cancer and research information, education materials, and culturally appropriate background or interviewees for their stories. The office can be reached at 301-496-9096 or by e-mail at . Some materials are available online .
  • NCI offers synopses of empirical findings in both English and in Spanish from its biennial administration of the Health Information National Trends Survey (HINTS) .  HINTS was funded to help communicators understand how changes in the communications environment may be influencing the public’s understanding of cancer.  The survey is conducted in both English and Spanish, with a recent administration in Puerto Rico.


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