Cancer patients undergoing active treatment may be more vulnerable to COVID-19-related misinformation
Cancer patients undergoing active treatment may be more vulnerable to COVID-19-related misinformation

Cancer patients undergoing active treatment may be more vulnerable to COVID-19-related misinformation

Cancer patients undergoing active treatment were more likely to believe in misinformation related to COVID-19 than those without a history of cancer, according to a new study led by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University.

These results help us better understand the threat of COVID-19 misinformation in an already vulnerable population. Understanding who is more likely to believe certain types of misinformation brings us closer to understanding why this is the case, which in turn can help us solve this problem. “


Jeanine Guidry, Ph.D. lead author, Assistant Professor at the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture in the College of Humanities and Sciences, Director of the Media + Health Lab at VCU and Member of the Cancer Prevention and Control Research Program at the VCU Massey Cancer Center

The study, “Endorsement of COVID-19 Related Misinformation Among Cancer Survivors,” was published in the journal Patient Education and Counseling.

Guidry and colleagues conducted a study of 897 adults, in which about one-third undergo treatment for cancer, one-third cancer survivors who are not currently in treatment, and one-third of those surveyed without a history of cancer. They found that cancer patients currently undergoing treatment were more likely to believe false information about COVID-19 than the other two groups. Least likely to support misinformation about COVID-19 was that cancer survivors were no longer in treatment.

“These results highlight that compared to healthy adults without cancer, cancer survivors currently undergoing treatment may be more vulnerable to COVID-19-related misinformation, while those no longer in treatment may be less vulnerable,” he wrote. the researchers.

Why are cancer patients more likely to support misinformation about COVID-19? The reasons are not entirely clear, the researchers say.

“It may be that survivors currently undergoing treatment have increased anxiety about how the current pandemic will affect their survival course, prompting them to seek more information on the Internet or via social media, where they are more exposed to misinformation. , “they wrote. “Increased information retrieval can affect cancer patients’ information processing capabilities, making them more likely to use heuristics or keywords, rather than more critical, central treatment pathways to assess information credibility.”

The study also found that cancer survivors who are no longer in treatment may have more experience in assessing the accuracy of information they read online.

“Our cancer survivors, they’ve been through this journey and come out on the other end, knowing that you can not believe everything you read on the internet – they know you need to talk to your doctor and other people who are knowledgeable. about these issues, “said senior author Bernard Fuemmeler, Ph.D., associate director of population science and Gordon D. Ginder, MD, Chair in Cancer Research at the VCU Massey Cancer Center as well as professor of health behavior and policy at the VCU School of Medicine.

The results are based on a previous study conducted by the researchers who found that parents of children with cancer were more likely to believe in misinformation and unverifiable content associated with COVID-19 than parents of children without a cancer history.

Our previous study showed that parents of pediatric cancer patients were more likely to consider misinformation about COVID-19 as true compared to parents of children without a history of cancer. “Although neither of these groups were randomized population trials and the results can therefore not be generalized, this is still worrying because these two are vulnerable groups, probably already under stress due to cancer diagnoses.”


Jeanine Guidry, Ph.D., lead author

The results of the new study suggest that oncologists and other providers working with patients undergoing treatment for cancer should be aware of patients ‘potential susceptibility to misinformation and should help address patients’ concerns about the pandemic and how it relates to their treatment.

“Cancer patients are in a particularly vulnerable position, and it is our duty as healthcare providers to help them cope with the ‘infodemia’ of misinformation so that they can get the best possible outcome in these challenging circumstances,” said study co-author Robert Winn, MD, Director and Lipman Chair of Oncology at the VCU Massey Cancer Center and senior associate dean of cancer innovation at the VCU School of Medicine.

Data for the new study were collected prior to the deployment of COVID-19 vaccines. But, Guidry said, the results are relevant today.

“COVID-19 vaccines and boosters have so far been very successful in preventing serious illness and mortality due to COVID-19, but infection with the virus and its variants is still a possibility and misinformation about COVID-19 prevention and treatment is still spreading fast, both online and in person, “she said. “The extent to which specific, already vulnerable groups may be susceptible to these types of misinformation remains relevant, both for the rest of this pandemic as well as for future public health emergencies.”

Source:

Journal reference:

Guidry, JPD, et al. (2022) Approval of COVID-19-related misinformation among cancer survivors. Patient education and counseling. doi.org/10.1016/j.pec.2021.05.026.

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