Original Research

The power of narrative health communication: Exploring possible effects of first-hand experiential stories on cancer awareness amongst university students

Karabo Sitto, Elizabeth Lubinga, Molemi Geya
The Journal for Transdisciplinary Research in Southern Africa | Vol 17, No 1 | a1008 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/td.v17i1.1008 | © 2021 Karabo Sitto, Elizabeth Lubinga, Molemi Geya | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 06 January 2021 | Published: 27 September 2021

About the author(s)

Karabo Sitto, Department of Strategic Communication, Faculty of Humanities, University of Johannesburg, Johannesburg, South Africa
Elizabeth Lubinga, Department of Strategic Communication, Faculty of Humanities, University of Johannesburg, Johannesburg, South Africa
Molemi Geya, Department of Primary Healthcare Services, Faculty of Registrars Portfolio, University of Johannesburg, Johannesburg, South Africa


Narrative health communication has the potential for effective health promotion about cancer amongst youth from low- and middle-income countries such as South Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa experiences a rising cancer-related disease burden with predicted increase of over 85% by 2030. Whilst promotion through communication, of cancer prevention strategies targeting 18–29 year olds remains scanty, it is crucial for cancer prevention behaviour before the disease develops. The study aimed at examining how narrative storytelling can create cancer awareness amongst students at the University of Johannesburg. A qualitative approach was adopted. During October 2019, an awareness session that formed part of a month-long health campaign involving various activities for students, promoted preventative behaviour leading to early cancer detection. Campus Health Services in collaboration with other University departments invited six cancer survivors and experts to share stories about their various cancer experiences with students and staff. Many of the participants aged between 18 and 49 years, indicated that they did not know how to engage in self-examination of their bodies and had never taken any cancer tests. Most of the participants expressed a willingness to engage in frequent self-examination and visiting health facilities to receive regular professional tests as a result of storytelling. Results may assist health promotion organisations with the construction of effective cancer health messaging especially for hard-to-reach groups such as youth in developing countries.


spoken narratives; cancer awareness; South African University; young South Africans; cancer survivors


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Crossref Citations

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