Social Media Increases Breast Cancer Treatment Satisfaction

Support groups and social networking help breast cancer patients manage emotions and stress.

A link was found between women who engage on social media after receiving a breast cancer diagnosis and improved satisfaction in their breast cancer treatment decisions; however, the new study notes that many patients are not using this tool.

Published in JAMA Oncology, researchers surveyed 2460 women newly diagnosed with breast cancer to ask them about their use of text messages, emails, social media, and web-based support groups post-diagnosis.

The results of the study showed that overall, 41% of women self-reported some or frequent use of online communication. Text messaging and email were the most common forms of communication, with 35% of women who reported using it.

For Facebook, Twitter, or other social media sites, 12% of women reported using them, while 12% used web-based support groups.

“Women reported separate reasons for using each of these modalities,” said lead study author Lauren Wallner, PhD, MPH. “Email and texting were primarily to let people know they had been diagnosed. They tended to use social media sites and web-based support groups to interact about treatment options and physician recommendations. Women also reported using all of these outlets to deal with the negative emotions and stress around their breast cancer diagnosis. They're using these communications to cope.”

Online communication was found to be most common in women who were younger, and who had more education. Furthermore, the use varied among races, with 46% of white women and 43% of Asian women who reported frequent use, compared with 35% of black women and 33% of Latinas.

“Our findings highlight an unmet need in patients for decisional support when they are going through breast cancer treatment,” Wallner said. “But at this point, leveraging social media and online communication in clinical practice is not going to reach all patients. There are barriers that need to be considered.”

The study also revealed that women who use online communications frequently had more positive feelings about their treatment decision. The women were more likely to report a deliberate decision and more likely to be highly satisfied with that decision.

“For some women, social media may be a helpful resource,” Wallner said. “But there are still questions to answer before we can rely on it as a routine part of patient car. We don't know a lot about the type of information women are finding online. What are they sharing and what is the quality of that information? We need to understand that before we can really harness the potential of social media to better support patients through their cancer treatment and care.”