Campus News

Families use Web for information during battles with cancer

Loved ones of cancer patients are likely to search for information about the disease online but less inclined to seek emotional support from social media forums, according to a UGA study published recently in the journal Computers, Informatics, Nursing.

Individuals frequently suffer negative psychological and emotional effects when the people they care about are diagnosed with cancer. It is fairly common for loved ones of cancer patients to develop depression or anxiety disorders as a result of the diagnosis, but there aren’t many studies focusing specifically on cancer patients’ caregivers and family members, said Carolyn Lauckner, the study’s author.

An assistant professor in the College of Public Health’s health promotion and behavior department, Lauckner surveyed 191 people whose loved ones were diagnosed with cancer in the past year or who were acting as caregivers to someone with cancer.

The motivation behind the research was personal for Lauckner.

“I went through a period of time where I had three loved ones diagnosed within a short amount of time,” she said. “I had these experiences where I heard about the diagnosis and I would go online to look it up, and then I would immediately become terrified and freak out about all the stuff I read online.”

More than three-quarters of participants searched online for information on a loved one’s disease. Most looked for treatment options, prevention strategies and risk factors, and prognosis information.

“I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of people who said that they were looking for prevention information online and detection information because that shows that not only are they concerned for their loved one but they’re also concerned about how they themselves can avoid cancer, which from a public health perspective is great,” Lauckner said.

Respondents were less inclined to view blogs or go online to hear about others’ cancer experiences. These kinds of sites were linked to negative emotions for participants, such as fear, sadness and anger.

The most commonly visited websites were those of charitable organizations like the American Cancer Society, which were associated with positive emotions. Lauckner said she found this information encouraging because it shows that the participants were consulting reliable sources of information and not being swayed by personal accounts as much.

Lauckner wants to build on the information gleaned to determine the most effective use of social media and technology to distribute cancer prevention and risk reduction messages to the public.