While Internet Searches May Provide Information, Patient-Provider Communication Gives Perspective in Prostate Cancer

Although researchers analyzed internet searches of men with prostate cancer, patient-provider communication is still key for education, according to one of the study authors.

There is an increase in the number of patients with prostate cancer who look to the internet to learn about their disease and its treatments. Most recently, there has been an increase in searchers on prostate-specific antigens, as well as radical prostatectomy and radiation therapy, according to research.

Dr. Zachariah Taylor, a resident doctor at Mainline Health in Philadelphia, and colleagues recently presented their study on internet use in men with prostate cancer at a urologic oncology conference. In an interview with CURE®, he stressed the importance of patient-provider communication even in the age of the internet.

CURE®: Can you explain your research on internet searches for men with prostate cancer, and why the study was important to conduct?

Taylor: Our aim was to characterize how men with prostate cancer utilize the internet to understand a prostate cancer diagnosis and what they can expect as they undergo diagnostic procedures and receive treatment. This is important because it is now the most utilized source of information and is critical for providers to understand how the patients are obtaining information regarding their medical conditions.

What are the main takeaways for patients regarding your study?

The main takeaway of the study is that men are utilizing internet more and more each year. Essentially all search terms that were analyzed demonstrated increased search volume throughout the study.

In particular, patients are very interested in prostate-specific antigen, or PSA, as well as therapies such as radical prostatectomy and radiation therapy. Interestingly, side effects to these procedures are being searched more and more each year and are increasing at a very fast rate.

There is so much information (some good, some not so good) on the internet. What advice would you give patients on navigating this overwhelming amount of information?

Navigating the internet can be a challenging endeavor, especially (when trying) to differentiate between reliable and unreliable sources. I would recommend trying to discuss with your provider specific internet resources that they may recommend. For example, in urology, the American Urologic Association has a lot of very useful and clear information for patients that is going to be reliable for them as they deal with their urologic issues.

Even with so much information available online, is it still important for patients to discuss their concerns or questions with their health care team?

Of course, any concern or question should be discussed with health care providers. They will have the best perspective to the individual patient. Relying solely on internet resources will likely disregard (certain) aspects of an individual's personal health profile.

What further research is needed in this area?

There is still a lot of work that can be done to better understand how patients utilize the internet. I think that as physicians and other providers continue to utilize the internet in patient education, there is significant potential (to) benefit for patient understanding.

Further research needs to be done to understand how the internet can be used effectively for individuals who are not English speakers and others who may have difficulty navigating the internet.

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