Rural Appalachian Kentucky experiences disproportionately high cancer incidence and mortality rates. This cancer burden is due to social determinants of health and cultural factors prominent in the region. The firsthand experiences of community members—especially young people—can highlight these factors and identify areas for improvement. The purpose of this study was to encourage Appalachian Kentucky youth to consider determinants of cancer and visualize the effects that cancer has on their families or communities by asking them to take photographs of cancer-related objects around them. Content analysis was performed on 238 photographs submitted by 25 students, and photographs were organized into themes, subthemes, and subtopics. The six themes that emerged were risk factors and exposures, marketing, awareness and support, health care, experiences, and metaphorical representations. Many of the submitted photographs aligned with cultural, environmental and/or situational factors prevalent in Appalachian Kentucky. Of the submitted photographs, 54 were displayed as an installment in two Kentucky art galleries. Viewer comments at the exhibitions demonstrated that young community members can educate and motivate change in those around them. Ultimately, this project demonstrates that young community members can recognize cancer-related issues around them and connect personal experiences back to the larger Appalachian Kentucky cancer disparity while also having an impact on other community members.

Document Type


Publication Date


Notes/Citation Information

Published in International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, v. 19, issue 1, 205.

© 2021 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.

This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)


Funding Information

This study was supported by the University of Kentucky’s Appalachian Career Training in Oncology (ACTION) Program [NCI R25CA221765] and the Cancer Center Support Grant [NCI P30CA177558].

Related Content

The photographs and captions analyzed for this study are being made available at https://www.instagram.com/cancer_in_appalachia/ (accessed on 24 December 2021).