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Where you get your information about breast cancer

1 December 2014
Appeared in BioNews 782

Following on from last week's article (see BioNews 781), we now turn to the final questions of the 'Breast Cancer: Chances, Choices and Genetics' poll, about the sources of information people use to find out about breast cancer.

We asked 'Where do you seek out, or most commonly come across, information about breast cancer?' and gave respondents eight options to choose from, plus an 'Other' option where they could specify additional sources of information. These options were not mutually exclusive, so people could select as many as they liked.

Of those who responded to this question, the percentage that selected each of the options was as follows:

Source of information %
Cancer charities 58
Scientific journals 48
News websites 43
Your GP 37
NHS Choices 30
Friends and family 30
Newspapers 30
Women's magazines 17
Other 14

The high proportion of poll respondents (almost half) who used scientific journals as a source of information about breast cancer may reflect the fact that the BioNews readership is more inclined than the public as a whole to follow developments in research. Even so, the figure draws attention to the fact that at least some patients and members of the public take the trouble to consult original research.

For each source of information selected by poll respondents, we asked the follow-up question 'How confident are you that this information is accurate?' and offered four options - 'very confident', 'quite confident', 'not sure' and 'not confident'.

Because the initial question concerned places where respondents 'most commonly come across' information as well as places where respondents actively 'seek out' information, we did not necessarily expect the most commonly used sources of information to be the ones considered most accurate. As it happens, it was the 'Other' sources of information to which people turned that - taken as a whole - were considered most useful by those who used them. 59 percent of those who chose the 'Other' option said they were 'very confident' in the accuracy of the relevant information, and 28 percent of them said they were 'quite confident'.

The next most accurate source of information, in the opinion of those who used it, was scientific journals. 50 percent said they were 'very confident' in the accuracy of such journals, and 47 percent said they were 'quite confident'. If one combines the 'very confident' and 'quite confident' figures, then scientific journals actually beat 'Other', with a combined percentage of 97 percent versus a combined percentage of 87 percent.

The next most accurate source of information, according to those who used it, was NHS Choices. 44 percent said they were 'very confident' in its accuracy, and 47 percent said they were 'quite confident'. Only then did the most commonly used source of information, cancer charities, make it into the ranking for accuracy - 42 percent of those who used such charities as a source of information were 'very confident' in their accuracy, and 51 percent were 'quite confident'.

It is interesting to look at the sources of information specified by poll respondents who chose the 'Other' option. These alternative sources of information were diverse, to say the least - they ranged from Cochrane Reviews (systematic reviews of biomedical research conducted by the Cochrane Collaboration) to the soap opera EastEnders.

The most common source of information named by those who selected 'Other' was a (non-GP) medical professional. Professionals listed included oncologists, breast specialists, nurses, genetic counsellors and private consultants. A few respondents also named gynaecologists - a gynaecologist would not commonly give breast cancer information in the UK, but these particular respondents were based in France, Germany and the USA, where gynaecologists may play a broader role in women's health.

Other healthcare-related sources of information included leaflets in GP surgeries, hospital websites and New Zealand's Ministry of Health. Several respondents had medicine-related jobs, and said they would use colleagues as a source of information, while one UK respondent said she was part of a nationwide breast cancer study that was a principal source of information. Some respondents named specific academics and researchers as their source of information, and one respondent said his source of information - in whom he was 'very confident' - was his wife.

Some used the radio as their source of information, including Radio 4 in general and Woman's Hour in particular. One respondent used billboard posters in the street and at public transport stations. Various online resources were named, with an emphasis on social media and particularly Facebook groups. Websites that were specified as sources of breast cancer information included DNA Breast, Science-Based Medicine and (gratifyingly) BioNews.

PET would like to thank everyone who responded to and suggested questions for the poll. The 'Breast Cancer: Chances, Choices and Genetics' project was supported by the Wellcome Trust.

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