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Roswell researchers study use of social media for pediatric cancer support

Parents of children with cancer often turn to social media to connect with support, according to findings of new research led by Roswell Park Cancer Institute researchers and published in the journal Cancer Nursing.

“Little research has systematically studied how people use social networking sites when confronting serious illness,” said the paper’s first author, Elizabeth Gage-Bouchard, associate member of cancer prevention and control at Roswell.

“Our study shows that personal Facebook pages offer a platform for cancer caregivers to share their cancer-related experiences, promote advocacy and awareness and mobilize social support,” added Dr. Lynda Kwon Beaupin, assistant professor of oncology in the Department of Pediatric Oncology.

Researchers examined personal Facebook pages of parents of children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a form of childhood cancer, from May 2012 to May 2013. The analysis of more than 15,000 Facebook posts found six primary ways Facebook was used: documenting the cancer journey; sharing emotional strain associated with caregiving; promoting awareness and advocacy about pediatric cancer; fundraising, mobilizing support and expressing gratitude for support.

“Clinicians can educate parents on how to evaluate information obtained through Facebook using evidence-based guidelines. The health care team can and should encourage patients and their caregivers to connect with support and celebrate accomplishments throughout their cancer trajectory and Facebook is one vehicle for sharing this information and support,” Gage-Bouchard said.


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