Does social media improve breast cancer treatment decisions and outcomes?

Does social media improve breast cancer treatment decisions and outcomes?

Read about the author Samantha Evans

Often criticised for creating the “selfie generation”, social media can benefit many people who have health issues by raising awareness about a condition or disease. By connecting people across the world, there is now a global discussion concerning their problems and how they are overcoming their health issues.

One group of people for whom social media is helping is women diagnosed with breast cancer. There are many amazing women blogging online about their experience of breast cancer, which helps so many others struggling with the disease. Many start blogging out of frustration at their care, or decisions made about their care without much discussion or alternate options offered. Others aim to help women cope with the disease and the effect it has upon their body, both physically and mentally.

Published in JAMA Oncology, research from University of Michigan Health System (2016) found that women who engage on social media after a breast cancer diagnosis expressed more deliberation about their treatment decision and more satisfaction about the treatment they chose.

The researchers surveyed 2,460 women newly diagnosed with breast cancer, identified through the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results database, about their use of email, texting, social media and web support groups following their diagnosis.

41% of women reported using online communication frequently, with texting and email being the most common. 12% reported using Facebook, Twitter or other social media sites and 12% used web based support groups.

Many used these social media outlets to cope with the negative emotions and stress caused by their diagnosis and treatment. The researchers also discovered that women who frequently used online communication had more positive feelings about their treatment decisions.

Younger women, and those who were more educated, were more frequent users with 46% of white women and 43% of Asian women reporting more frequent use in comparison to 35% of black women and 33% of Latino women.

However, there are significant barriers to accessing social media for women, including older women, those less well educated and minority groups. For many women, talking to other women who have or who have had breast cancer offers so much hope and support, making them feel they aren’t alone.

Healthcare professionals err on the side of caution when recommending social media sites as not much is known about the content and quality of the information they offer, and if recommended treatments are safe.

There are many social media sites offering help, support and information for women who have breast cancer, often set up by women who have breast cancer themselves. Many have done so as a way in which to express their physical and psychological feelings about the disease, how it is impacting upon their lives and relationships and to interact with other women and their families.

Such sites also allow discussion about a wide variety of treatment options that some women may not be offered or may not be aware of. They also offer tips and advice about how to overcome some symptoms, which many doctors don’t suggest or know about.

I follow several people on Twitter who write excellent blogs about their experience of breast cancer and how they are living with it, including two amazing women, Dr Liz O’Riordan, a breast surgeon who has breast cancer and Jo Taylor, who set up ABCDiagnosis to help provide ‘signposting’ for information to help make the right decision for patients at this crucial time in their diagnosis. They campaign tirelessly to raise awareness of the disease and its impact upon their lives which helps so many women with breast cancer.

There are also many websites which offer breast cancer advice and support
Younger Breast Cancer Network (UK) facebook group