Cancer Info on Social Media May Be False

Misinformation about cancer was common on social media sites, study finds

(RxWiki News) Reading about cancer treatment on social media? You might not be getting accurate information.

That's the finding of a new study that looked at information about cancer found on popular social media sites. As it turns out, roughly one-third of the most popular articles about cancer treatment on social media contained misinformation.

The authors of this study said that this kind of misinformation could be harmful to patients who have cancer. These articles may support unproven treatments or cause patients to delay treatment in a way that could allow the cancer to progress.

"Having cancer is a unique and vulnerable situation," said lead study author Dr. Skyler Johnson, a physician-scientist at the Huntsman Cancer Institute, in a press release. "Patients are dealing with a new disease. They want to feel in control over their own health and do everything possible to maintain hope. They experience a deluge of new information as they are diagnosed, including through social media. Some patients seek out information, and some information is shared with patients by well-intentioned family and friends."

To conduct this study, Dr. Johnson and team gathered 200 of the most popular articles about cancer on social media. These articles were about breast, lung, prostate and colorectal cancer. Panels of medical experts assessed the claims made in these articles.

"We found misinformation is clearly prevalent in cancer articles on social media, and the vast majority of those pieces contain harmful information," Dr. Johnson said.

Among the articles included in this research, 33 percent contained misinformation. And 77 percent of those contained misinformation that could harm patients, this study found.

Dr. Johnson said keeping open communication channels between doctors and their patients could help with this issue.

"We must empathize with our patients and help them when they encounter this type of information," he said. "My goal is to help answer their questions, and provide cancer patients with accurate information that will give them the best chance for the best outcome."

Always speak with your health care provider before making any changes to your treatments, therapies or medications.

This study was published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

The National Cancer Institute and Huntsman Cancer Foundation funded this research.

Information on potential conflicts of interest was not available at the time of publication.

Review Date: 
July 28, 2021