Internet Provides Open Channel for Cancer Education, Discussion: Pew

A report by the Pew Internet & American Life Project finds that people with cancer use the Internet to gather information about their conditions and to connect with other cancer patients.

A new report by the Pew Internet & American Life Project called "Internet Cancer 2.0: A Summary of Recent Research" suggests that the Internet is a great resource for people suffering from cancer and other chronic conditions, yet the potential exists for greater use.

Currently 62 percent of adults living with a chronic disease use the Internet compared with 82 percent of adults without chronic diseases, according to the Pew report.

In addition, of respondents, 62 percent of cancer patients go online compared with 47 percent with heart conditions and 50 percent with diabetes.

With cancer patients more likely to be active in monitoring their condition than those with other types of chronic diseases, the Internet presents an opportunity to seek and share information-particularly in social media, Pew suggests.

"The Internet is not just an information vending machine," Susannah Fox, Pew's associate director for digital strategy, wrote in the report. "It is a social, mobile communications device that can fit in someone's pocket, helping them wherever they are to connect with just-in-time information and support."

One recent example of using the Internet to deal with a health condition is Elizabeth Edwards. The wife of former Sen. John Edwards turned to Facebook on Dec. 6, the day before she died, to express her thoughts about her cancer struggle.

"The days of our lives, for all of us, are numbered," Elizabeth Edwards wrote. "We know that. And yes, there are certainly times when we aren't able to muster as much strength and patience as we would like. It's called being human. But I have found that in the simple act of living with hope, and in the daily effort to have a positive impact in the world, the days I do have are made all the more meaningful and precious. And for that I am grateful."

The growth of broadband and mobile access is a valuable resource for those living with cancer or other chronic diseases. Two-thirds of Americans have broadband Internet connectivity now compared with 5 percent in 2000, according to Pew.

In addition, eight in 10 Internet users research health topics online, regardless of their health status, Pew reports. They search for prescription drug options and ways to treat conditions.

The report also suggests that blogging and online discussion groups can be helpful for people dealing with a chronic disease. "When other demographic factors are held constant, having a chronic disease significantly increases an Internet user's likelihood to say they work on a blog or contribute to an online discussion, a listserv or other online group that helps people with personal issues or health problems," Fox wrote.

Chronic disease patients may also access reviews of doctors or hospitals as well as podcasts, according to the report.

"They unearth nuggets of information, they blog, they participate in online discussions and they just keep going," Fox wrote.

Health resources on the Internet include sites such as WebMD and

An Aug. 25 report by comScore and ImpactRx found Medscape and WebMD as two of the most popular online resources for doctors.

Companies such as WebMD and Epocrates also offer mobile apps on platforms such as the iPhone and iPad that allow people to research prescriptions and manage their conditions.