Skip to main content

Study: Breast cancer patients with greater need seek more information online

June 18, 2008

Patients with more concerns about their breast cancer are heavier users of online information, according to a new study conducted by the Center for Excellence in Cancer Communications Research, funded by the National Cancer Institute.

Additionally, those in greater need were more likely to seek experiential information, such as stories about other patients or how to be a better health care consumer, as compared to more science-based content.

This is the first study to take a comprehensive look at what psychological characteristics predict online information seeking among underserved breast cancer patients. The study sample included 144 recently diagnosed, low-income, rural breast cancer patients in Wisconsin who were referred by their health care providers to a study in which they were provided a free computer, Internet access and training on how to use an online health education and support system called the Comprehensive Health Enhancement Support System (CHESS) program, a computer-based health education and support system. Surveys were administered before group access, and use data about how women used different types of information within the system were also collected.

"Many thought that cancer patients who were better off would be more likely to use resources such as the Internet to cope with their illness, yet our research indicates that underserved patients with greater psychological needs are more likely to take advantage of the Internet as a source of cancer information. Our findings support efforts to expand access to Web-based cancer information resources for vulnerable populations who could benefit from this support," says Bret Shaw, assistant professor of life sciences communication and lead author of the study. "It is also interesting to learn that experiential information such as personal stories from other patients may be among the content that patients want most."

The results of the study are published in the June issue of the Journal of Health Communication.