Web info with chatrooms best for breast cancer patients says study

In collaboration with the Press Association

Breast cancer patients who make full use of online information and resources such as support groups are most likely to feel equipped to fight their disease, says research.

The study supplied free computers and internet connections to 286 lower-income women recently diagnosed with breast cancers.

They were then granted access to integrated health education and a support system known as the Comprehensive Health Enhancement Support System (Chess) "Living with Breast Cancer" program.

This provided them with access to information in four distinct ways: static text-based web-pages; peer-to-peer support group communication, email access to a specialist and an interactive guide offering advice.

A survey at the beginning and end of the study, combined with browser information on which areas of the system were most used allowed the researchers to analyse the women's web use.

Those who used the static patient information and chatted with other women in the online support group gained the most benefits.

Using the static pages and the interactive guide were also shown to improve the users' understanding. Surprisingly, access to an expert appeared to have little benefit.

"Previous research indicated that women with breast cancer can learn as a result of having access to online health education resources, but this is among the first studies to explain how such learning actually occurs," said lead author Bret Shaw.

"The results of this study suggest that cancer patients should seek out trusted information and interactive services on the internet, and they may obtain additional benefits if they also use online support groups as well."

Henry Scowcroft, Senior Information Officer at Cancer Research UK, welcomed the research.

"Over the past few years there has been a rapid change in how people use the internet. People no longer see the web as a static, unchanging environment.

"The explosion of technologies such as blogs, messageboards, chatrooms and even 'old fashioned' email means that web users now expect to be able to interact and share knowledge," he said.

"This research reflects this change and how it is impacting on how health information is provided online.

"The onus is now on healthcare providers and charities to adapt and respond to people’s needs.

"Cancer Research UK has always been committed to providing up-to-date patient information via our patient information website, CancerHelp UK, and a host of other online materials on our News & Resources website."

The study was conducted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Centre of Excellence in Cancer Communication Research and published in the journal Health Education Research.

Visit Cancer Research UK’s patient information website, CancerHelp UK