What makes cancer survivor stories work? An empirical study among African American women

Matthew W. Kreuter, Trent D. Buskirk, Kathleen Holmes, Eddie M. Clark, Lou Robinson, Xuemei Si, Suchita Rath, Deborah Erwin, Anne Philipneri, Elisia Cohen, Katherine Mathews

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

71 Scopus citations


Cancer survivors play a vital role in cancer control as messengers of hope and information, and advocates for prevention and screening. Understanding what makes survivor stories effective can enhance survivor-delivered programs and interventions. By random assignment and using a cross-classified design, 200 African American women viewed videotaped stories (n∈=∈300) from 36 African American breast cancer survivors. Analyses examined effects of story attributes (narrative quality, health message strength), participant characteristics (ways of knowing, experience with breast cancer) and identification with the survivor on women's: (1) level of engagement in the story; (2) positive thoughts about the story; and, (3) remembering key messages about breast cancer and mammography in the story. Participant characteristics were significant predictors of all three study outcomes, accounting for 27.8, 2.6 and 22.2% of their total variance, respectively. In comparison, the variability in these outcomes that could be attributed to differences in the stories was small (0.6, 1.1 and 2%, respectively). The effects of participant characteristics on level of engagement and positive thoughts were mediated by identification with the survivor. The best predictor of a woman becoming engaged in a breast cancer survivor's story and having positive thoughts about the story was whether she liked the survivor and viewed her as similar to herself (i.e., identification). Survivor stories may be most effective when audience members identify with the survivor. Finding key characteristics that can reliably match the two will advance cancer communication science and practice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)33-44
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Cancer Survivorship
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2008


  • Breast cancer
  • Cancer communication
  • Health disparities
  • Narrative communication

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