Background: Social network sites have been growing in popularity across broad segments of Internet users, and are a convenient means to exchange information and support. Research on their use for health-related purposes is limited.
Objective: This study aimed to characterize the purpose, use, and creators of Facebook groups related to breast cancer.
Methods: We searched Facebook (www.Facebook.com) using the term breast cancer. We restricted our analysis to groups that were related to breast cancer, operated in English, and were publicly available. Two of us independently extracted information on the administrator and purpose of the group, as well as the number of user-generated contributions. We developed a coding scheme to guide content analysis.
Results: We found 620 breast cancer groups on Facebook containing a total of 1,090,397 members. The groups were created for fundraising (277/620, 44.7%), awareness (236, 38.1%), product or service promotion related to fundraising or awareness (61, 9%), or patient/caregiver support (46, 7%). The awareness groups as a whole contained by far the most members (n = 957,289). The majority of groups (532, 85.8%) had 25 wall posts or fewer. The support oriented groups, 47% (27/57) of which were established by high school or college students, were associated with the greatest number of user-generated contributions.
Conclusions: Facebook groups have become a popular tool for awareness-raising, fundraising, and support-seeking related to breast cancer attracting over one million users. Given their popularity and reach, further research is warranted to explore the implications of social network sites as a health resource across various health conditions, cultures, ages, and socioeconomic groups.