Cancer patients use the Internet throughout different stages of treatment and follow up to find information about tests and treatment, gain expertise on their illnesses and seek support from other patients, according to a study in the BMJ. The study also identified two ways in which patients used the Internet to change their involvement in health care: to privately question doctors' advice and to exhibit competence despite their illnesses.
"Serious illness often undermines people's self image as a competent member of society. Cancer patients may use the Internet to acquire expertise to display competence in the face of serious illness," the study concluded.
Patients cited the Internet as a valuable resource because of its privacy and 24-hour availability (Ziebland et al., BMJ, 3/6). The study also found that the Internet allowed patients to anonymously research hospital and staff training and reputation without threatening the doctor-patient relationship.
The Web was most popular among men with prostate or testicular cancer and among women with breast cancer.
Sue Ziebland, the study's lead researcher, said patients use the Internet as "a huge medical library," and that "health professionals should welcome this change, guide patients to trusted Web sites and, if necessary, help them interpret what they find," Pharma Marketletter reports (Pharma Marketletter, 3/15).
Results are based on a study of 175 men and women, aged 19 to 83 years, who had been diagnosed with prostate, testicular, breast, cervical or bowel cancer since 1992 (BMJ, 3/6).