Cancer Communication on Social Media: Examining How Cancer Caregivers Use Facebook for Cancer-Related Communication

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Abstract

Background:

Americans are increasingly using social media (such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter) for health-related communication. Much of the previous research on social media and health communication has focused on Facebook groups related to a specific disease or Facebook pages related to an advocacy organization. Less is known about how people communicate about cancer on personal Facebook pages.

Objective:

In this study, we expand upon previous research by examining how cancer caregivers use personal Facebook pages for cancer-related communication.

Methods:

We examined themes in cancer-related exchanges through a content analysis of 12 months of data from 18 publically available Facebook pages hosted by parents of children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (15 852 total posts).

Results:

Six themes emerged: (1) documenting the cancer journey, (2) sharing emotional strain associated with caregiving, (3) promoting awareness and advocacy about pediatric cancer, (4) fundraising, (5) mobilizing support, and (6) expressing gratitude for support.

Conclusions:

Building upon previous research documenting the increasing use of social media for health-related communication and support, our findings show that personal Facebook pages offer a platform for cancer caregivers to share their cancer-related experiences, promote advocacy and awareness, and mobilize social support.

Implications for Practice:

Providers must recognize the importance of social media as a vehicle for support and communication for families of children with cancer. Nurses should educate parents on how to appraise information obtained through Facebook using evidence-based guidelines. Providers can encourage caregivers to use Facebook as a tool for communication, information, and support.

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