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February 25, 2003

Internet Use May Benefit Survival Of Minority/Ethnic Breast Cancer Patients

Minority breast cancer patients’ use and perception of breast health information from Internet sites differs from that of white patients. This perceived benefit may be beneficial for minority patient survival, according to a researcher from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Joshua Fogel, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Mental Health, is the study’s lead author.

A study of 180 white, African-American, and Hispanic-American breast cancer patients, who were seen by one of two breast surgeons in New York City, N.Y., included self-reported demographic and medical information and a standardized psychological questionnaire. Additional medical information was obtained from hospital records. The researchers used standardized questionnaires previously used in studies of breast cancer patients.

The minority breast cancer patients perceived Internet breast health information as a source of social support. The team examined the psychological benefits of Internet use and how it varied among breast cancer patients of various races/ethnicities who used the Internet for medical information. Minorities, at a much higher rate than white patients, perceived the health information as a potential source of available material aid and also correlated this health information with having someone to talk to. The study will be published in the March/April 2003 issue of Psycho-Oncology.

Dr. Fogel said, “Among breast cancer patients, these results may have clinical outcomes for mental health. Internet use may also impact their physical health, as some research shows that social support is associated with longer life among breast cancer patients receiving social support treatments.” Dr. Fogel conducted his research while completing his doctoral dissertation at Yeshiva University.

This is the first study to suggest that use of Internet health information may have special clinical relevance to cancer patients of racial/ethnic minority groups. Internet use among minorities was associated with greater overall social support. Minority and white participants, however, did not differ in their feelings of belonging or self-esteem social support. In addition, no differences were observed for stress, depressive symptoms, loneliness, or coping.

Dr. Fogel said, “This research shows the importance of using the Internet for breast health information and how different racial/ethnic groups receive different potential benefits. It seems likely that using the Internet as a source of information could prove just as beneficial to racial/ethnic groups facing other health challenges as it did to the breast cancer patients we surveyed.”

According to Dr. Fogel, the Internet may help reduce barriers to receiving care in medically underserved communities by providing racial/ethnic groups with an avenue to obtain information and the knowledge of what to do about breast concerns. The Internet may also provide minorities with the tangible support that they do not receive until very late in their diagnosis of breast cancer.

Dr. Fogel said, “This research suggests that continuous Internet use may help prolong survival just as the scientific literature suggests in the case of person-to person formats of support groups and group psychotherapies. As a result, not only should more websites focus on racial/ethnic groups and culturally sensitive themes related to health issues, but breast surgeons should encourage patients to read reputable websites, as this information may prolong their survival. Future research is necessary to directly study this potential impact of Internet health information on minority survival.”

The research is based in part on the doctoral dissertation of Joshua Fogel for his PhD in Clinical Health Psychology at Yeshiva University, Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology, in Bronx, N.Y.

"Racial/ethnic differences and potential psychological benefits in use of the Internet by women with breast cancer" was written by Joshua Fogel, PhD; Steven M. Albert, PhD; Freya Schnabel, MD; Beth Ann Ditkoff, MD; and Alfred I. Neugut, MD, PhD. (Article © John Wiley & Sons Ltd. is published online (DOI 10.1002/pon.617) in the journal Psycho-Oncology.)

Research was supported by a Dissertation Research Award from the American Psychological Association and given to Joshua Fogel, PhD, in 2001.

Public Affairs Media Contacts for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Kenna Brigham or Tim Parsons @ 410-955-6878 or paffairs@jhsph.edu.