Increased Internet usage linked to more optimistic cancer outlooks

The Internet can perform a great many tasks. Need a recipe? Desire the latest news and/or gossip? Looking to interact with professional and personal communities from the comfort of your home office? The worldwide web can solve all those ills and, according to new research, it can even change the way people perceive a given medical condition.

The report, published in the latest issue of the Journal of Communication, finds that patients who use the Internet often have a more positive outlook regarding cancer prevention and diagnosis than those who make little use of the tool. Study contributors Chul-joo Lee, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Jeff Niederdeppe, Cornell University; and Derek Freres, University of Pennsylvania, surveyed 2,489 people from the ages of 40 to 70 with respect to their media usage.

“Given the importance of public information environment in cancer control, it is theoretically and practically important to explore how people's media use to acquire health information influences their beliefs about cancer prevention,” the authors wrote. “In the current research, we focus on the role of the Internet in shaping fatalistic beliefs about cancer prevention (cancer fatalism). To be more specific, we examine the effect of Internet use for health information on changes in cancer fatalism using a 2-wave nationally representative survey. We then investigate whether the effect of Internet use on cancer fatalism is moderated by education and health knowledge.”

Participants who employed the Internet to obtain health and medical information were far less likely to maintain cancer fatalism as time wore on. Moreover “health-related Internet use reduced cancer fatalism only among those with average and lower than the average levels of education and health knowledge.”

"Reducing cancer fatalism, especially among people with low socioeconomic status, is arguably one of the most important public health goals in the nation," Lee said in a news release. "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."

Past investigations into the realms of other contemporary information technologies did not end as promisingly — one study done on the affects of local television viewing found that the more a person engages with such content, the larger the influx in cancer fatalism over time. The current study is the first of its kind that delves into Internet use and resulting moods. 

Find the study in its entirety here.