Millennials Rely on Internet for Information, Providers for Cancer Treatment Decisions

Patients with cancer and caregivers said that the internet helped them to make informed care-related decisions.

A new study published by Healthline found that nearly 90% of all patients with cancer conduct online research after diagnosis, with approximately half doing so the same day.

The “State of Cancer” report highlights how important it is for health care providers—including pharmacists—to understand how patients are receiving this information about their diagnosis in order to steer them towards trusted sources.

In the study, the authors analyzed consumer lifestyle data for 1500 patients with cancer to determine which role online sites and technology play in cancer diagnosis and treatment.

What the authors discovered was a drastic difference between generations of patients.

While 89% of patients with cancer and their caregivers search the internet for information, 49% of millennials do their research the same day they are diagnosed, according to the study.

Millennials were also found to be 3 times more likely to join an online support group compared with baby boomers.

The authors found that 78% of patients and caregivers rely on the internet to make informed decisions and 71% said it lessens the fear and anxiety that comes with a cancer diagnosis, according to the study.

However, 50% of millennial patients said the information available caused an increase in anxiety and fear.

These findings can be important for providers to understand how to best present information and treatment options to patients.

At a panel discussion on “The State of Cancer” report, panelist William K. Oh, MD, chief of the division of hematology and medical oncology, Tisch Cancer Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, noted that the amount of complex information online can be difficult for patients to navigate. Dr Oh told the audience that providers have to personalize the information patients receive to ensure they get the right resources and are not overwhelmed by statistics that may not be applicable.

Despite the prevalence of independent research among these patients, the study authors discovered that nearly half of millennials relied solely on their health care providers to make all clinical decisions, while only 38% baby boomers relied heavily on their providers, according to the study.

During the event, Healthline said that it is likely that millennials are heavily reliant on their providers because they are younger, have likely never negotiated the health care landscape before, and it may be their first health crisis.

The authors also said that 28% of patients with breast cancer downloaded a chat application, with 22% of downloads occurring within 1 month of diagnosis, highlighting the urgency of support.

These findings, especially the noteworthy differences between the generations, can help providers, hospitals, manufacturers, and other stakeholders personalize information for patients, according to the authors.

The Healthline event featured panelists who discussed cancer treatments and recounted their own journey with cancer.

Melanie Griffith, SoulCycle master instructor, discussed how she used her 2010 diagnosis with chronic non-Hodgkin lymphoma as an opportunity to create content and talk about her condition.

“I became the voice I needed to hear,” Griffith told the audience. By doing so, she said she was able to live the “brightest and most alive time of my life.”

Creating content was also something Ericka Hart, MEd, writer, activist, and sexuality educator, began to do when she was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 28.

Hart said she felt that many online forums are based on sadness, which was not something she wanted to prescribe to. Instead, she channeled her mother who had passed away from breast cancer and her friend who was also diagnosed to create content that was specific to her and did not require her to fit into someone else’s views of a patient with cancer.

Keynote speaker, Fran Drescher, actress and activist, discussed her own battle with uterine cancer and how she was not diagnosed for nearly 3 years. Luckily, her cancer was slow-growing, but she said that persistence saved her life. She also touched on how she did her own online research when she was diagnosed in 2000, although there were not nearly as many resources and support groups as there are now.

Breast cancer survivor and oncologist Marisa C. Weiss, MD, also highlighted the various gaps of care patients can experience during their journey with cancer, as she did. However, the report indicated that this may be an opportunity for technology and online content to help patients and fill those gaps.