Loved ones of patients with cancer often seek further information about the disease online, but they are less likely to seek emotional support from social media forums. These survey findings were published in Computers, Informatics, Nursing.1

The loved ones of patients with cancer often suffer negative psychological and emotional effects, such as depression or anxiety disorders, as a result of the diagnosis. However, few studies focus specifically on caregivers and family members of patients with cancer, said the study’s author, Carolyn Lauckner, PhD, of the University of Georgia in Athens.

“I think sometimes the loved ones and caregivers get forgotten,” said Dr Lauckner. “And that’s why I wanted to research this population to see if there are ways that we can better support these individuals.”

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

Dr Lauckner described her personal motivations for this research.

“I went through a period of time where I had 3 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.”

Dr Lauckner found that over three-quarters of participants searched online for information on a loved one’s disease. The majority of the participants 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,” Dr Lauckner said.

Dr Lauckner found that respondents were less inclined to view blogs or go online to hear about others’ cancer experiences. The study found that these kinds of sites linked to such negative emotions as fear, sadness, and anger for the study’s participants.

The most commonly visited websites were those of charitable organizations like the American Cancer Society, which were associated with positive emotions. Dr 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.

Reference

1. Lauckner C. The effects of viewing and preferences for online cancer information among patients’ loved ones. Comput Inform Nurs. 2016;34(1):37-46.