Southern California Clinical and Translational Science Institute
Translating Science into Solutions for Better Health

SC CTSI-Supported Cancer Education Film To Receive Prestigious 2013 APHA Award


In the film, the Romeo family is preparing for the youngest daughter’s Quinceanera—15th birthday. Woven into the characters’ narrative are essential facts regarding the cause of cervical cancer, as well as how to prevent it with the HPV vaccine and detect it through Pap tests.

Note: The project was supported by SC CTSI Pilot Funding and the SC CTSI Community Engagement team. The team assisted in the Spanish translation of the film and the evaluation tools and facilitated an advisory board that provided a cultural perspective on the movie script

A multidisciplinary team of researchers, artists and expert at USC produced the short film Tamale Lesson, which uses narrative storytelling to educate women about cervical cancer screening. The film will accept the 2013 American Public Health Association (APHA) Public Health Education & Health Promotion Award for best multimedia material in November. 

Cervical cancer is largely preventable and treatable. However, some populations—Latina and Korean women, especially—don’t get adequately screened, which leads to disproportionately high rates of the disease.

Aiming to transform the way cancer information is delivered to the public, Lourdes Baezconde-Garbanati, PhD, MPH, associate professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, and colleague Sheila Murphy, PhD, associate professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, spearheaded the Tamale Lesson project after receiving a National Cancer Institute research grant in 2010.

In the film, the Romeo family is preparing for the youngest daughter’s Quinceanera—15th birthday. Woven into the characters’ narrative are essential facts regarding the cause of cervical cancer, as well as how to prevent it with the HPV vaccine and detect it through Pap tests.

USC School of Cinematic Arts professors Doe Mayer and Dave O'Brien, as well as Jeremy Kagan, founder of the USC The Change Making Media Lab, produced the film. The script was written by Josefina Lopez based on focus group work originally funded by the Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The researchers tested the film’s scientific effectiveness against the fact-based, non-narrative piece, It's Time, in a randomized telephone trial among 1,000 Los Angeles women. Results showed Tamale Lesson to be highly effective in changing knowledge, attitudes and cancer screening behaviors.

Having proved that a narrative can be a powerful tool in correcting health disparities in cancer screening, the multidisciplinary team is moving forward with a Spanish version of the film, which is currently being tested with funding from the Southern California Clinical and Translational Science Institute (SC CTSI).

The original story was published on the USC Keck SOM website