breast cancer who created a personal website about their health reported
feeling less depressed, more positive and having a greater appreciation for
life, in a small new study.
Though cancer patients have long benefited
from support groups made up of fellow patients and survivors, researchers said,
they may still have trouble talking about their experiences with family and
friends – who may also feel uncomfortable broaching the subject.
The websites in this study were especially
helpful for women to "be able to truly tell their story, express emotions
and communicate with others without having to repeat information about their
diagnosis and treatment," said lead author and psychologist Annette
Stanton of the University of California at Los Angeles. The study is the first
to use a randomised controlled trial to evaluate online intervention tools and
their influence on patient moods, Stanton told Reuters Health.
Popular sites like CaringBridge.org and
MyLifeLine.org offer similar tools, "but, to our knowledge, none of those
websites have been tested for their effects," she said.
For their study, Stanton and her colleagues
recruited 88 women from Breast Link, a network of cancer treatment centres in
Southern California. The women ranged in age from 28 to 76 years old and
roughly half were randomly assigned to create a personal website through a
program called "Project Connect Online". The rest were put on a
waiting list and given the same opportunity after the six-month study ended. Participants
in the group that created websites during the study began by attending a single
three-hour workshop to build their Wordpress.org-based sites.
Mood assessment questionnaires
completed standard mood assessment questionnaires three times: at the start of
the study, and again at one month and six months after creating their sites. During
the first month after creating the site, participants spent an average of three
hours adding materials and interacting with their project online. The site
included a blog with personal photos, a "How You Can Help" page and a
section directing visitors to outside information links.
At one and
six months, the women who built websites reported feeling less depressed and
more positive, compared to the group on the waiting list. But there was no link
between having a personal website and the strength of relationships with family
and friends, nor did the activity seem to ward off intrusive, cancer-related
And the positive changes in mood and attitude
were most noticeable among women undergoing cancer treatment during the study
period, compared to women who had already completed treatment, the researchers
report in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
a small sample size and it needs to be confirmed and reproduced," said
study co-author Dr James Waisman, a breast cancer oncologist at the City of
Hope National Medical Centre in Duarte, California. The study is nevertheless
encouraging, Waisman said. Yan Hong, a health behaviourist at Texas A&M
University Health Science Centre in College Station called the results
Online intervention tools
"Scientists have been excited about
online intervention tools for a long time," she told Reuters Health. Hong,
who was not involved in the current study, recently published a review of
previous research that found no strong links between online tools and improved
mental health. But she noted that the data she analyzed were only as recent as
the early 2000s.
None of the
studies examined the potential benefits to patients of sharing their
experiences through social media like Facebook or Twitter.
studies looking at Internet interventions have focused on a narrow part of the
population that has access to the Internet, Hong said. This means the results
are difficult to apply to the public outside the study. Between 15% and 25% of
cancer patients suffer from depression, according to the National Cancer
get sicker and lose the ability to go out in public, online intervention tools
could come in handy, Waisman said."This is a way they can mobilise support – through their computer and their website," he said.