Using HINTS to discover how the public learns about cancer

The Challenge 

Advances in technology and social media have made health information more widely available than ever before. Knowing how people find out about cancer helps determine the best ways to design and target efforts to prevent and control the disease.

To better understand how the public obtains and uses information about cancer and cancer prevention, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) sponsors the Health Information National Trends Survey (HINTS). HINTS provides NCI with a comprehensive assessment of the American public’s current access to and use of information about cancer across the cancer care continuum. This includes information about

  • Cancer prevention
  • Early detection
  • Diagnosis
  • Treatment
  • Survivorship

By conducting HINTS repeatedly over time, NCI can monitor changes and trends in the public’s information-seeking preferences and behaviors and can keep up with changing technologies. 

NCI has chosen Westat to lead HINTS, the only national study of how people learn about cancer. Westat has fielded HINTS 8 times since 2001, with the next round of data collection taking place in 2017.


Our Solutions 

For the survey, we carry out a variety of activities, including:

  • Work closely with NCI investigators to design survey questions in both English and Spanish that address NCI’s research questions
  • Conduct cognitive testing in both English and Spanish to ensure that questions are easily understood by respondents and that they accurately capture the information NCI needs
  • Use focus groups and other approaches to learn what motivates study participants to complete the survey
  • Mail the paper survey to a probability-based sample of households nationwide
  • Test small changes to the study data collection methods so that HINTS can explore ways to improve response rates and collect the highest quality data possible
  • Weight the collected data to ensure that NCI estimates accurately reflect the U.S. population
  • Deliver a cleaned and weighted data set to NCI
  • Conduct survey methodology analyses and make recommendations to NCI to improve data collection in the future

The Results 

  • Findings from HINTS allow health communication experts at NCI and within the broader cancer community to
    • Refine their communication priorities and approaches
    • Identify deficits in the public’s knowledge of cancer
    • Communicate information about cancer more effectively to different groups, including minorities and people living in poverty
  • In addition, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has named HINTS as a data source for measuring progress on several of its objectives for Healthy People 2020.

Our Client 

National Cancer Institute (NCI)