Indigenous people experience poorer cancer survival outcomes compared with non-Indigenous people. Currently, there is growing awareness of poor health literacy as a determinant of cancer outcomes. However, little attention has been given to researching cancer-related health literacy amongst Indigenous people.


To systematically review empirical studies of cancer health literacy amongst Indigenous people worldwide.


Articles were identified in Medline (1946–2013); Pre-Medline; CINAHL; PsycINFO (1967–2013); PubMed; Current Contents/All Editions (1993–2013); Allied Health and Complimentary Medicine (1985–2013), and in the reference lists of retrieved articles and by expert consultation. 64 abstracts were screened for inclusion and 16 articles were retained.


There is a paucity of high-quality research concerning of health literacy amongst Indigenous cancer patients. No articles used formal measures of health literacy and data on the prevalence of health literacy was not reported. Of the 7 articles describing interventions only one included a control group and the remainder employed quasi-experimental methods.


Research is needed to explore the cultural relevance of existing measures of health literacy and to document the prevalence of health literacy amongst Indigenous people with cancer. A better understanding of Indigenous cancer patients’ health literacy is required before health literacy interventions can be designed to improve Indigenous cancer outcomes.

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