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Access to the Web as an Antidote to Patient Cancer Fatalism

Posted Dec 17 2012 12:00am

I believe in the existence of a mind-body-axis by which I mean that a patient's state of mind can affect the course of a disease in a positive or negative way. Hence, I was very interested in a recent article that browsing the web to acquire information about disease can reverse a patient's "fatalistic view of cancer" (see: The Internet Can Reduce Fatalistic View Of Cancer ). Below is an excerpt from it:

Recent research...found that people who use the internet to inquire about their health are more likely to have a positive outlook on cancer prevention and diagnosis. [The authors] published in the Journal of Communication their findings from a nationally representative survey of adults between the ages of 40 and 70. Conducted longitudinally over the course of a year, the survey collected 2,489 cases and were weighted for age, gender, ethnicity, education and census region. Previous studies have shown that local TV viewing can increase cancer fatalism overtime. This study is the first to examine internet use, and the results were promising. The findings suggested that people who use the Internet frequently to acquire health or medical information are less likely than those who do not use the Internet for such purposes to hold cancer fatalism over time. More importantly, the research showed that Internet use reduced cancer fatalism among less educated and less health-knowledgeable people to a greater extent than among more educated and more knowledgeable people. "Reducing cancer fatalism, especially among people with low socioeconomic status, is arguably one of the most important public health goals in the nation," [one of the study authors] said. "Studying the effect of Internet use on cancer fatalism is important, considering that the Internet has become a new, very crucial source of health information for the American public these days. These findings have important implications since we showed that the Internet may be a very effective channel of health communication especially for people with low socioeconomic status." 

Here's good definition for cancer fatalism: [T]he belief that death is inevitable when cancer is present--has been identified as a barrier to participation in cancer screening, detection, and treatment (see:  Cancer fatalism: the state of the science ). Such a feeling is obviously incorrect in the light of the progress we have made in recent years in cancer treatment. Such an attitude can also have a deleterious effect on a patient's state of mind, negatively affecting his or her will to survive in the face of a treatable lesion. In other words, there can be a poor clinical outcome for some cancer patients even with optimal medical treatment.

I am sure that much of what is called cancer fatalism is driven partly by a patient's culture, educational level, receptivity to new information, and sense of optimism. Obviously, there is lots of misinformation about cancer and cancer treatment on the web. Some patients will obviously need training and guidance when surfing the web after a diagnosis of cancer. Some may be able to turn to friends or relatives for help. I know that most larger hospitals have patient educational centers to provide such assistance. A key factor on the part of healthcare providers is the belief in what has sometimes been called information therapy in the past. 

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