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Women Confident of Breast Cancer Treatment Decisions Following Online Support


Sharing information of diagnosis and treatment decisions reassured women newly diagnosed with breast cancer of their health choices, according to a new study published in JAMA Oncology.

Sharing information of diagnosis and treatment decisions reassured women newly diagnosed with breast cancer of their health choices, according to a new study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center. Although this was true for younger women who are more technology savvy, older women, minorities, and the less educated experienced significant barriers to social media.

A total of 2460 women were included in the study following a survey conducted 6 months after they had been diagnosed with stages I to III breast cancer, between July 2013 and September 2014, as part of the iCanCare Study. The women ranged from 20 to 79 years in age. Respondents were asked to report the number of times they had used various forms of communication—e-mail or texting, social media (Twitter, Facebook, and blogs), or Web-based support groups—to discuss their diagnosis, treatment, or the care they were receiving.

The study found that 41% of women reported some or frequent use of online communication, texting and e-mail being the most common (35%). Social media platforms were used by 12% of women and 12% used Web-based support groups.

“Women reported separate reasons for using each of these modalities. Email and texting were primarily to let people know they had been diagnosed. They tended to use social media sites and web-based support groups to interact about treatment options and physician recommendations,” according to lead author Lauren P. Wallner, PhD, MPH, assistant professor of general medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School. “Women also reported using all of these outlets to deal with the negative emotions and stress around their breast cancer diagnosis. They’re using these communications to cope,” she added.

The major barrier, however, was that younger women, who are typically more technology savvy, were more frequent users of these various platforms. Other factors that influenced use were the level of education and race—46% of white women and 43% of Asian women reported frequent use, compared with 35% of black women and 33% of Latina women. The researchers also found that frequent use of these online communication modes made women more about their treatment decision.

Wallner cautioned, “For some women, social media may be a helpful resource. But there are still questions to answer before we can rely on it as a routine part of patient care. We don’t know a lot about the type of information women are finding online. What are they sharing and what is the quality of that information? We need to understand that before we can really harness the potential of social media to better support patients through their cancer treatment and care.”

The research was published this week in JAMA Oncology.

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