Internet Utilization by Radiation Oncology Patients

Heather Jones, MD
University of Pennsylvania Cancer Center
Last Modified: November 7, 2001

Presenter: J.M. Metz
Presenter's Affiliation: Radiation Oncology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
Type of Session: Scientific

Millions of people use the Internet daily. It is not unreasonable to postulate that many cancer patients are among these Internet users. This multi-institutional study evaluated the use of the Internet by radiation oncology patients presenting to academic (AC), community (CO) and veterans (VA) radiation oncology centers.

Materials and Methods

  • A self-administered questionnaire evaluating the use of the Internet was was used in 921 patients presenting to radiation oncology departments at AC, CO and VA Medical Centers.
  • The questionnaires interrogated two main areas, computer access and Internet use. Secondary endpoints evaluated were, predictive factors for utilization, and barriers to access to the Internet.
  • The study included 436 AC patients (47%), 284 CO patients (31%), and 201 VA patients (22%).
  • The mean age of the patient population was 64 years (range=14-93). Males represented 70% of the patient population.


  • The most common diagnoses included prostate cancer (33%), breast cancer (13%), and lung cancer (11%).
  • A computer was available at home to 427 patients (46%) and 337 patients (37%) had E-mail access.
  • 265/921 patients (29%) were using the Internet to find cancer related information.
  • The Internet was used by 42% of AC patients, 25% of CO patients and only 5% of VA patients (p<.0001).
  • A computer was available at home in 62% AC vs. 45% CO vs. 12% VA patients (p<.0001).
  • Younger patients (< 60 years) were much more likely to use the Internet than older patients (p<.0001).
  • Most of the Internet users considered the information either very reliable (22%) or somewhat reliable (70%).
  • Patients searched for information on the Internet for treatment of their cancer (90%), management of side effects of treatment (74%), alternative/complementary treatments (65%) and clinical trials (51%).
  • Unconventional medical therapies were purchased over the Internet by 12% of computer users. Products or services for the treatment or management of cancer were purchased online by 12% of Internet users.

    Author's Conclusions
    A significant number of cancer patients seen in radiation oncology departments at academic and community medical centers utilize the Internet to obtain information about cancer. Therefore, radiation oncologists must familiarize themselves with this resource because of the large number of patients using the Internet. It would appear Veterans lack access to the Internet and remain underserved by this important resource.

    Clinical/Scientific Implications
    Internet-based health information will enable members of the healthcare team to interact with many people despite distance and time constraints. Equally, the Internet allows the quick dissemination of misinformation. This study clearly demonstrates the need for healthcare provider to know the good ,the bad, and the ugly regarding Internet cancer information. Informational media by computer is expected to become an important factor that affects health behavior, and as in all aspects of healthcare, we must strive to make computer information accessible to all.

    Oncolink's ASTRO Coverage made possible by an unrestricted Educational Grant from Bristol-Myers Squibb Oncology and Pharmacia Oncology.