Cancer screening: Videos to improve understanding

Issue: BCMJ, vol. 57, No. 5, June 2015, Pages 197-198 News

Presenting complex health information to a diverse population with varying levels of health literacy can be challenging. Of particular concern is the correlation between lower health literacy and the underusage of preventive health services such as cancer screening.[1] With a focus on promoting cancer screening, the BC Cancer Agency has developed four animated videos that provide an overview of screening mammography, Pap tests, the fecal immunochemical test, and colonoscopy. The videos, each approximately 90 seconds in length, feature spoken narration and present the five Ws (who, what, when, where, why) and the how of the screening tests in the context of BC’s cancer screening programs.

The videos aim to demystify and destigmatize cancer screening tests that are, to some, considered to be sensitive in nature. They convey key facts and instructions in a friendly and approachable tone while emphasizing the importance of the procedures. With a growing number of people accessing health information online,[2] the BC Cancer Agency will feature these videos on their cancer screening website and associated social media channels as additions to the organization’s suite of health promotion tools.

A recent study in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, “The effectiveness of health animations in audiences with different health literacy levels: An experimental study,”[3] found that animated videos with spoken voiceover are the best way to communicate complex health information to people with low health literacy, and that this approach does not negatively influence those with higher health literacy. The study also found that this method improved attitudes toward the information presented and the ability to recall that information.

The combination of animation and spoken voiceover is also supported by learning approaches promoting the effectiveness of a multimedia approach. Visual and acoustic inputs are processed separately, and information presented in multiple modes (such as moving images and sound) is better retained and recalled.[4] The four videos have been translated into Punjabi, Mandarin, and Cantonese to further extend their accessibility to BC’s diverse population.

This is the first time that the BC Cancer Agency has deployed cancer screening messages in a video format, and the organization will assess and evaluate their usage, particularly as it relates to health literacy. The BC Cancer Agency engaged the expertise of Signals Design Group to produce the animated videos. To view the videos visit


1.    Scott TL, Gazmararian JA, Williams MV, et al. Health literacy and preventive health care use among Medicare enrollees in a managed care organization. Med Care 2002;40:395-404.
2.    Pew Research Center. Pew Internet Project: Health fact sheet. Accessed 7 May 2015.
3.    Meppelink CS, van Weert JCM, Haven CJ, et al. The effectiveness of health animations in audiences with different health literacy levels: An experimental study. J Med Internet Res 2015;17:e11.
4.    Mayer RE. Multimedia learning. In: Ross BH (ed). The psychology of learning and motivation. Vol 41. San Diego: Academic Press; 2002. p. 85-139.

. Cancer screening: Videos to improve understanding. BCMJ, Vol. 57, No. 5, June, 2015, Page(s) 197-198 - News.

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