How the internet affects patients' experience of cancer: a qualitative study

  • Ziebland S
  • Chapple A
  • Dumelow C
 et al. 
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Objective To explore how men and women with cancer talk about using the
Design Qualitative study using semistructured interviews collected by
maximum variation sampling.
Setting Respondents recruited throughout the United Kingdom during
Participants 175 men and women aged 19-83 years, with one of five
cancers (prostate, testicular, breast, cervical, or bowel) diagnosed
since 1992 and selected to include different stages of treatment and
follow up.
Results Internet use, either directly or via friend or family, was
widespread and reported by patients at all stages of cancer care, from
early investigations to follow up after treatment. Patients used the
internet to find second opinions, seek support and experiential
information from other patients, interpret symptoms, seek information
about tests and treatments, help interpret consultations, identify
questions for doctors, make anonymous private inquiries, and raise
awareness of the cancer. Patients also used it to check their doctors'
advice covertly and to develop an expertise in their cancer. This
expertise, reflecting familiarity with computer technology and medical
terms, enabled patients to present a new type of ``social fitness.{''}
Conclusion Cancer patients used the internet for a wide range of
information and support needs, many of which are unlikely to be met
through conventional health care. Serious illness often undermines
people's self image as a competent member of society. Cancer patients
may use the internet to acquire expertise to display competence in the
face of serious illness.

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  • S Ziebland

  • A Chapple

  • C Dumelow

  • D Evans

  • S Prinjha

  • L Rozmovits

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