Lack of Comprehension of Common Prostate Cancer Terms in an Underserved Population Journal Articles uri icon

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  • Purpose To assess the comprehension of common medical terms used in prostate cancer in patient education materials to obtain informed consent, and to measure outcomes after prostate cancer treatment. We address this issue among underserved, African-American men because of the increased cancer incidence and mortality observed in this population. Patients and Methods We reviewed patient education materials and prostate-specific quality-of-life instruments to identify technical terms describing sexual, urinary, and bowel function. Understanding of these terms was assessed in face-to-face interviews of 105, mostly African-American men, age ≥ 40, from two low-income clinics. Comprehension was evaluated using semiqualitative methods coded by two independent investigators. Demographics were collected and literacy was measured. Results Fewer than 50% of patients understood the terms “erection” or “impotent.” Only 5% of patients understood the term “incontinence” and 25% understood the term “bowel habits.” More patients recognized word roots than related terms or compound words (eg, “rectum” v “rectal urgency,” “intercourse” v “vaginal intercourse”). Comprehension of terms from all domains was statistically significantly correlated with reading level (P < .001). Median literacy level was fourth to sixth grade. Prostate cancer knowledge was poor. Many patients had difficulty locating key anatomic structures. Conclusion Limited comprehension of prostate cancer terms and low literacy create barriers to obtaining informed consent for treatment and to measuring prostate cancer outcomes accurately in our study population. In addition, the level of prostate cancer knowledge was poor. These results highlight the need for prostate cancer education efforts and outcomes measurements that consider literacy and use nonmedical language.


  • Kilbridge, Kerry L
  • Fraser, Graeme
  • Krahn, Murray
  • Nelson, Elizabeth M
  • Conaway, Mark
  • Bashore, Randall
  • Wolf, Andrew
  • Barry, Michael J
  • Gong, Debra A
  • Nease, Robert F
  • Connors, Alfred F

publication date

  • April 20, 2009