Background: Adults over age 40 are increasing their use of email and social media, raising interest in use of peer-to-peer Internet-based messaging to promote cancer screening.
Objective: The objective of our study was to assess current practices and attitudes toward use of email and other e-communication for peer-to-peer dialogues on cancer screening.
Methods: We conducted in-person interviews with 438 insured adults ages 42-73 in Georgia, Hawaii, and Massachusetts. Participants reported on use of email and other e-communication including social media to discuss with peers routine health topics including breast and colorectal cancer (CRC). We ascertained willingness to share personal CRC screening experiences via conversation, postcard, email, or other e-communication. Health literacy scores were measured.
Results: Email had been used by one-third (33.8%, 148/438) to discuss routine health topics, by 14.6% (64/438) to discuss breast cancer screening, and by 12.6% (55/438) to discuss CRC screening. Other e-communication was used to discuss routine health topics (11.6%, 51/438), screening for breast cancer (3.9%, 17/438), and CRC (2.3%, 10/438). In the preceding week, 84.5% (370/438) of participants had used email, 55.9% (245/438) had used e-communication of some type; 44.3% (194/438) text, 32.9% (144/438) Facebook, 12.3% (54/438) instant message, 7.1% (31/438) video chat, and 4.8% (21/438) Twitter. Many participants were willing to share their CRC screening experiences via email (32.4%, 142/438 might be willing; 36.3%, 159/438 very willing) and via other e-communication (15.8%, 69/438 might be willing; 14.4%, 63/438 very willing). Individuals willing to send CRC screening emails scored significantly higher on tests of health literacy compared to those willing to send only postcards (P<.001).
Conclusions: Many adults are willing to use email and e-communication to promote cancer screening to peers. Optimal approaches for encouraging peer-to-peer transmission of accurate and appropriate cancer screening messages must be studied.
Keywords: Internet; breast neoplasms; colorectal neoplasms; communication; early detection of cancer; electronic mail; health promotion; peer group; social media; social support.