Assessing and Providing Culturally Competent Care in Radiation Oncology for Deaf Cancer Patients

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Purpose: Recognition of disparities for vulnerable populations in the field of oncology is increasing, but little attention has been paid to deaf patients. At least a million Americans are culturally deaf and use American Sign Language. Poor linguistic and cultural competency among physicians is a barrier to care delivery for these patients, placing them at risk for treatment disparities. To better educate oncology practitioners, including radiation oncologists, regarding the unique needs of this cohort, we performed an evidence-based literature review of culturally competent care for deaf patients to improve patient care and delivery. Methods and Materials: PubMed was systematically reviewed for publications reporting on deaf patients for articles regarding (1) survivorship, patterns of failure, or toxicity in treating malignancies or (2) cultural and linguistic barriers to delivery of oncological care. Publications were excluded if deafness was a side effect of treatment or barriers and outcomes were reported on nonmalignant conditions. Results: Barriers to care were poor health literacy, accessibility to providers or resources in preferred language (ie, American Sign Language), and limited cultural and linguistic proficiency of providers. Deaf patients may have a delay in cancer diagnosis, but no articles reported on treatment outcomes for malignancies in deaf patients. Currently, no oncology-specific guidelines exist on care delivery for deaf patients with cancer. We propose the need for a care model that provides guidelines on creating effective and total communication accessibility for deaf patients and improves cultural and linguistic competency among providers. Guidance should be provided on implementation of resources and training for oncology practitioners and how their respective institutions and staff can help create inclusive care environments. Conclusions: Clinical outcomes of deaf patients with cancer remain poorly characterized, highlighting the need for a care model to promote provision of linguistically and culturally competent oncological care for deaf patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)333-344
Number of pages12
JournalAdvances in Radiation Oncology
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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