Deaf Community Has Poor Cancer Prevention Knowledge

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture
Deaf Community Has Poor Cancer Prevention Knowledge

Hearing loss is the country’s second most common disability affecting more than 28 million Americans. A recent study conducted in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Michigan found that people with profound hearing loss have poor knowledge of recommended cancer prevention interventions.

For the study, U-M physicians modified an existing computer-based cancer prevention video for hearing patients by including real-time video of an American Sign Language interpreter communicating the information and appropriate reading level captions. Researchers then tested the amended program in a sample of the Michigan’s Deaf community to evaluate its effectiveness in disseminating recommended cancer prevention information to that population.

Researchers found that participants averaged only 22.9 percent correct answers after viewing the video.

“Deaf persons have been found to be the non-English speaking minority at greatest risk for miscommunication with their physicians. If we can figure out how to help this group, there’s potential for helping other non-English speaking minorities,” says lead author Philip Zazove, M.D. “These finding indicate a sizeable group with poor health literacy and potential poor use of the health care system.”

Though scores were low on average for all participants, the study showed Deaf persons who reported speaking English at home, with hearing persons and with physicians, generally scored higher than those who only use ASL or another language for understanding of cancer prevention information. Respondents also had higher scores when health information was obtained from books, physicians, nurses or the Internet.

Other variables associated with better scores were computer use, college degree and higher income. There was no association between the survey score and the age of hearing loss, but subjects with hearing spouses did better than those with hard of hearing or d/Deaf spouses.


“The Deaf population is a recognized minority culture. Like other minorities, Deaf people have unique health and cultural beliefs and understanding of medical topics. The reason the Deaf community is the non-English speaking minority at greatest risk for poor physician communication is because it is unlikely that physicians will speak their language - and because they have difficulty expressing themselves in English.” Zazove explains.

Researchers believe these findings mirror previous reports that deaf and hard of hearing people are less informed about cancer preventative recommendations than people who can hear.

Further research is needed to determine the reasons for the decreased health knowledge of the d/Deaf population, so that appropriate actions can be taken to improve their knowledge, Zazove says.


1) The content of the video was updated to reflect then current recommendations by a physician with expertise in this area.

2) A questionnaire was added to the beginning of the video in to gather baseline information from participants, including demographics, hearing loss variables, family hearing loss history, language history, healthcare history, sources of healthcare information, and cultural identity (e.g., if they are a member of the Deaf community).

3) Twelve questions based on the content in the video were completed by subjects before, immediately after, one month later, and six months later.