Cancer Patients & Online Forums

          When people are faced with a life-threatening disease like cancer, they often seek information about the disease and support from peers.  Hearing the personal stories from other cancer patients that post online in forums and scientific websites are the very best resources. These will provide comfort during these stressful times and help with the anxieties of being faced with a horrible disease, according to a new study recently published.

          Watching television entertainment shows and medical dramas can leave people feeling fearful and concerned though, because the storylines can be suspenseful in the hopes of holding the viewers’ attention.  Secondly, is the information found on the Internet reliable? People are looking for more than just information. They want comfort and support offered by the stories and reactions of those who are, or have gone through, the same ordeal.  Jan Van den Bulck, professor of communication studies at the University of Michigan was co-author of the study, published online in the Journal of Cancer Education.   She collaborated on the research with Sara Nelissen and Kathleen Bellens of the University of Leuven in Belgium.  Many other studies have focused on cancer patients using the Internet for peer support but the current research investigates how this group uses television and the Internet to access peer stories and what the emotional outcomes are.

          The study used data from the Leuven Cancer Information Survey and looked at 621 individuals diagnosed with cancer and living in Belgium.  The average age was 54 years old and mostly female. They provided personal background and indicated if they viewed television and the Internet to follow peer stories and how they felt.  Most preferred to use websites, forums and informative television programs to learn more about their disease. These forums can generate interaction between the individuals who are posting real-life stories and those who are reading the stories.  They also provide more factual and less visual information, which can be more comforting than the dramatic TV shows with emotional visual content.

          The differences between men and women diagnosed with cancer, was also looked at.  Women made significantly more use of all sources for following peer stories than the men.  If I were diagnosed with any type of cancer or life-threatening disease, I would certainly want my information from those who are either going through it or have gone through it, for more exact personal information.  I would want to know if they used any type of alternative medicine prior to any chemo treatment to build their health in giving them a better chance at survival. Perhaps some could completely avoid chemo, and that’s what I would want.  After watching my best friend die from her chemo poisoning, this would be my last resort. Gather your information personally from those who are facing the same trials you are.

Dr Fredda Branyon

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