A new study by lead author Dr. Lauren Wallner, who earned her Ph.D. in epidemiology from University of Michigan School of Public Health, surveyed 2,460 women recently diagnosed with breast cancer about their activity on social media and online support groups, as well as emailing and texting.
[Dr. Lauren Wallner]
The survey showed that over 40 percent of these women were communicating online about their diagnosis and 35 percent were texting, emailing, or both.
The study also found that the women who were using these virtual outlets were happier about their treatments, and felt that their decisions about them were more deliberate compares to women who were not talking about their cancer online.
Furthermore, women also seem to be using social media to cope with the negative emotions and stress surrounding their diagnoses.
Dr. Wallner says “Our findings highlight an unmet need in patients for decisional support when they are going through breast cancer treatment.”
Suggesting that access to social media and other forms of online resources may benefit the mental well-being of breast cancer patients comes with implied barriers, as older and lower-income patients may have more limited access to the internet for various reasons.
However, Dr. Wallner also cautions that before leaps can be made to incorporating online support into the standard care routine for breast cancer patients, more research is necessary to analyze the demographics that benefit most from this type of information sharing. (This study found that young women, Whites, and Asians were more likely to communicate online while Blacks and Hispanics were slightly less likely to do so.)
Additionally, because there are many opportunities to receive false or harmful information from the internet, the content and quality of the online information being accessed needs to be assessed as well before we can know the potential benefits and detriments of social media engagement for breast cancer patients.