Different online behavior in young adult cancer patients

Through cross-sectional research, IKNL researcher Carla Fokkema-Vlooswijk has mapped out differences in the online behavior of younger (aged 18) and older cancer patients (aged 40). It is important that healthcare professionals are aware of this type of information so that they can optimally guide both age categories when searching the Internet and in finding accessible and reliable sources.

Adolescents and young adults aged 18 to 39 (AYAs) mostly use the Internet in their daily lives. If they are diagnosed with cancer at that age, they are likely to seek information about their disease online. However, older patients with cancer often (also) want to receive information in other ways. The question therefore arises as to whether internet use and eHealth needs of AYAs are comparable to those of older cancer patients.

AYAs search online for other info

A total of 299 AYAs and 270 older adults with cancer participated in the study. This was carried out via questionnaires. The research shows that young adults and adolescents are significantly more likely to search for information about cancer on the Internet than older adults. This is the case both just before diagnosis (45% versus 37%), and immediately after diagnosis (71% versus 62%). This difference remains visible during treatment: 65% versus 59%.

Older adults with cancer are more likely to seek information about the type of cancer, heredity, and financial problems. They are also looking for fellow sufferers on the internet. In contrast, AYAs are more likely to search for topics such as treatment guidelines, fertility, end of life, sexuality and intimacy, lifestyle and insurance. Other studies also show that AYAs are more likely to search for age-specific topics, such as fertility. The research shows that AYAs feel better informed after seeking cancer-related information than older adults with cancer. No significant differences were observed between the groups in the influence of searching for cancer-related information on the Internet on their treatment choice.

AYAs in the initial phase online daily

During the diagnosis and treatment phase, AYAs use the internet more often than older people on a daily basis to search for cancer-related information. They also explicitly seek a different kind of information than older adults. The sample used in this study has on average a high level of education. It is therefore possible that less educated AYAs need more or different guidance when using the internet. This could include support with extra visual information. The needs of lower educated AYAs should in any case be further investigated. It is also essential that patients are informed about the potential risks of internet use. Misleading or misinterpreted health information on the Internet can endanger health.

Most Dutch people are looking for health information on the internet

Six in ten Dutch healthcare users search for information about their health or condition themselves. The majority of them search online (79%) for such information. The main focus is on information about possible treatments (37%). Only a small proportion (17%) search for information about healthcare providers. This is apparent from recent figures from the Transparency Monitor of e-health institute Nive .

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