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Dissemination of Misleading Information on Prostate Cancer on Social Media

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Key Points

  • Of the 150 most-viewed YouTube videos on prostate cancer, 77% had factual errors or biased content in either the video or its comments section.
  • 75% of the videos fully described the benefits of various treatments, while only 53% sufficiently captured potential harms and side effects.
  • 19% recommended alternative or complementary therapies that are largely unproven.
  • Only 50% of the videos analyzed describe shared decision-making, the current standard of care in prostate cancer screening and treatment.

YouTube videos on prostate cancer often offer misleading or biased medical information that poses potential health risks to patients, an analysis of the social media platform published by Loeb et al in European Urology showed.

For the latest analysis, researchers, which included social media experts, evaluated each video’s educational value based on more than a dozen features, including accuracy, level of misinformation, and commercial bias. Previous studies on prostate cancer videos were smaller and did not use standardized techniques to evaluate their content, researchers noted.

Analysis Findings

Led by researchers at New York University (NYU) School of Medicine and NYU Langone’s Perlmutter Cancer Center, the study of the 150 most-viewed YouTube videos on the disease found that 77% had factual errors or biased content in either the video or its comments section. The study also found that 75% of the videos fully described the benefits of various treatments, while only 53% sufficiently captured potential harms and side effects. Another 19% recommended alternative or complementary therapies that are largely unproven, said the study authors.

Researchers explained the audience for these videos was large, with some content included in the sample reaching as many as 1.3 million viewers. The average total viewership for the videos was approximately 45,000. More than 600,000 prostate cancer videos are posted on the social media platform.

“Our study shows that people really need to be wary of many YouTube videos on prostate cancer,” said study senior investigator and urologist Stacy Loeb, MD, Assistant Professor in NYU Langone’s Departments of Urology and Population Health, who also chairs a panel of social media experts for the American Urological Association (AUA). “There is valuable information available in them, but people need to check the source to make sure it’s credible and to beware of how quickly videos become outdated as care guidelines constantly evolve with the science.”

In addition, only 50% of the videos analyzed describe shared decision-making, the current standard of care in prostate cancer screening and treatment, said Dr. Loeb.

The latest American guidelines, revised last year, recommend that men between the ages of 55 and 69 should talk to their doctors about the risks and benefits of blood-test screening for prostate cancer. Dr. Loeb said many popular videos predate this change and also encourage more aggressive treatment than is now considered medically necessary for low-risk disease.

Dr. Loeb advised care providers to direct their patients to trusted sources for information on prostate cancer. She also encouraged other physicians and providers to participate in social media platforms like YouTube to produce videos that offer evidence-based advice.

Credible sources for online information about prostate cancer, Dr. Loeb said, are widely available and include the Prostate Cancer Foundation, which helped fund the current study; the Urology Care Foundation, the AUA’s website for patients; and the National Cancer Institute, among others.

Dr. Loeb explained that the sheer volume of videos on YouTube makes it impractical for medical experts to continually review them all as part of any “policing” effort. However, she encouraged physicians and other viewers to use the YouTube reporting feature for alerting its officials to videos that promote misleading information.

In addition to the Prostate Cancer Foundation, funding for the current study was provided by the Edward Blank and Sharon Cosloy-Blank Family Foundation.

Disclosure: See study authors’ full disclosures at europeanurology.com.

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.


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