A report published in the April 1 issue of Cancer stated that Dr. Stacy Gray, as lead investigator from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, has released some findings about the role internet research plays on the quality of care received by cancer survivors. Her main conclusion was that cancer survivors who research their disease and its treatments on the Internet as well as other media are more likely to get the latest treatments from their doctors.

Prior studies have shown that about 40 percent of cancer survivors look to the Internet for medical information, but there has not been prior research that shows how that information influences the choice of treatments.

Gray said that, “We looked at how colon cancer patients used health information to try to make decisions about things related to their treatment.” She reported that 69 percent of the colon cancer patients that were interviewed had actively looked for treatment information beyond their doctor visits.

“These high levels of treatment information-seeking were very strongly associated with both awareness of new novel therapies for colon cancer, and also

[the] patient’s report of receiving those therapies,” Gray said, “Information-seeking may have the potential to influence the treatments patients receive, and potentially their medical outcome.”

Gray’s team collected data on 633 patients with colon cancer from the Pennsylvania Cancer Registry. The researchers looked specifically at the use of two targeted therapies for the disease, bevacizumab (Avastin) and cetuximab (Erbitux), among these patients.

The researchers found that people who used the media to get information about colon cancer and its treatment were 2.8 times more likely to have heard about these newer treatments and 3.2 times more likely to have gotten these treatments, compared to those who did not research their disease.

The association between information gathering and choosing these treatments remained strong when the treatments were used in advanced colon cancer, as approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), or when used for early disease, where the use of these drugs is not FDA-approved.

Patients look for information on the Internet as preparation for their doctor visits. Others heard about a TV program on cancer and made sure to watch it, Gray said. “Other people are getting pamphlets from their doctors, and some people are seeking second opinions from other physicians,” she said.

Researching medical problems, especially cancer, through the media is a growing trend. People want to assume a greater role in their health care, there has been a healthy and positive increase in health consumerism.

Even though this study was limited to colon cancer survivors, there are many reasons to believe that this also extends to other cancers, including prostate cancer. By the way, you are on the internet reading this blog!

Joel T Nowak MA, MSW