(NaturalNews) People who get health information from the Internet are significantly more likely to feel like their choices can affect their risk of acquiring cancer, according to a study conducted by researchers from Cornell University, the University of Pennsylvania, and published in the Journal of Communication.
A fatalistic attitude about cancer prevention is widespread in U.S. society, with many believing that only fate or luck determine who gets cancer and who doesn't. This fatalism can lead people to neglect proven cancer-prevention strategies, and to make poor health choices if they do receive a cancer diagnosis
"Reducing cancer fatalism, especially among people with low socioeconomic status, is arguably one of the most important public health goals in the nation," researcher Chul-joo Lee said.
"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."
Prior studies have shown that people who view local television programming become increasingly fatalistic in their cancer outlooks over time, but no comparable studies had been conducted on Internet use. In order to determine whether Internet use was related to cancer fatalism, the researchers conducted a nationally representative survey of 2,489 US adults between the ages of 40 and 70. Internet use and attitudes about cancer were monitored over the course of a year, and the findings were adjusted for age, census religion, education, ethnicity and gender.
Greatest benefit for the poor and less-educated
The researchers found that people who regularly get health or medical information from the Internet are significantly less likely to hold fatalistic attitudes about cancer prevention and diagnosis than people who do not use the Internet in that way. Strikingly, this effect was only seen "among those with average and lower than the average levels of education and health knowledge." The effects were strongest in the poor and in people with less education and health knowledge.
"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," the researchers wrote.
The findings may help guide public-health efforts to better inform people about cancer prevention, the researchers suggested.
"Given the importance of [the] 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," they wrote.
Health outcomes affected
People's attitude about cancer prevention and diagnosis can have serious health consequences. For example, a 2010 study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine found that Latina women who hold fatalistic attitudes about cancer or illness are significantly less likely to get screened for cervical, breast and colorectal cancer. This was true even after researchers controlled for the effect of poverty or limited access to healthcare.
Latina women have the lowest cancer screening rates in the country and are also among the most likely to believe that cancer cannot be prevented or treated.