Cancer patients, in particular those recently diagnosed, who use the Internet to obtain information about their condition, according to researchers have a more positive outlook and are more active participants in their treatment.  The study was conducted at Temple University and published in the Journal of Health Communication.

Dr. Sarah Bass the principal investigator and public health professor said, “this is the first study to look at the relationship between Internet use and patient behaviors.  We wanted to see if access to readily available information about their condition help patients cope with issues such as hair loss and other treatment side effects.”

For this study, the researchers recruited cancer patients who are called a government number at the National Cancer Institute, where trained specialists answered their questions about cancer and directed the callers to investigate cancer-related resources in their area.  The 442 participants were broken and to “direct user, in direct user and nine user” category space on their Internet usage patterns.

Dr. Beth says that the direct and indirect users were usually females between the ages of 50 and 60 who were graduates of college and made more than $60,000 a year.

Dr. Bass and her colleagues began to observe strong links between Internet use and the cancer patient’s feelings about their treatment.  Those that use the Internet and received information from family members or friends were more likely to view their relationship with their physicians as a partnership and were more comfortable asking questions and challenging treatment alternatives.

“They saw the Internet as a powerful tool that enhanced their decision-making ability,” Dr. Graff noted.

Also, Dr. Beth and her team were pleasantly surprised by the number of nonusers who, after eight weeks turned to the Internet for information.  When they were asked about the change, almost 75% said that either a family member or a friend, had encouraged them or the cancer diagnosis itself prompted them to research their condition on the Internet.

According to Dr. Beth these didn’t want to feel powerless or have to rely on the physicians to make all of the route decisions regarding their treatment.

Dr. Beth is concerned that as more and more funding is eliminated for telephone hot lines, is the time for doctors and other health care professionals to encourage patients to use the Internet as a research tool.