Social interaction via the Internet appears to be successful and may be a regular part of coping with the diagnosis of prostate cancer, according to a study.

Johannes Huber, MD, of the University of Heidelberg in Germany and his colleagues found that online support groups help patients in their decision-making process when it comes to radical prostatectomy (RP). The investigators write that it is important for clinicians to evaluate online support groups so they can evaluated peer-to-peer counseling and have a better understanding of their patients’ needs and worries. 

Dr. Huber’s group examined patient-to-patient communication with regard to decision-making in localized prostate cancer. Over a 32-month period, they screened 501 threads in the largest German online support group for prostate cancer patients.  Two independent investigators characterized every thread by following a standardized protocol.

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The researchers found that the threads were most commonly started to ask for therapy recommendations (66%), information on the course of treatment (46%), and emotional support (46%). Answers consisted of treatment recommendations (40%), emotional support (37%), and personal experiences (28%). Common suggestions included getting a second opinion on the biopsy cores (51%) and additional imaging (40%).

Writing in report in BJU International (published online ahead of print), the investigators concluded that “the scientific evaluation of an online support group is a complementary way of getting to know our patients needs and worries.”

If clinicians are aware of what is now occurring in online support groups, then the possible negative effects from such groups can be discussed during patient-physician contacts, the authors noted.