Online Search Behavior for Cancer Immunotherapy Resources and Readability Analysis: An Opportunity to Aid in Medical Decision-making

Cureus. 2019 Oct 7;11(10):e5857. doi: 10.7759/cureus.5857.


Cancer patients are faced with increasing options for cancer care, especially with the introduction of cancer immunotherapy with immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs). Though many patients turn to online resources to supplement their decision-making, it is unknown whether online resources in cancer immunotherapy with ICIs are written at an appropriate level of readability according to national medical organizations. We performed a cross-sectional analysis of internet search behavior for cancer immunotherapy by ICIs and clinical trial availability per in the United States (US) from 2004 - 2018 with subsequent quantitation of readability by four readability formulas of top 50 online resources. Internet search behavior for "cancer immunotherapy" has steadily increased since 2013 and coincides with the year of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for individual ICIs. Furthermore, internet search behavior was significantly correlated with clinical trial availability in the US (R = 0.97, p < 0.0001). None of the top 50 resources available to patients were found to be within the recommended level of sixth-grade readability or less with only one (2%) written at the middle school level, 21 (42%) at the high school level, 23 (46%) at the university level, and five (8%) at a graduate level. Population-level internet search patterns may reflect patient behavior in seeking relevant online health information and may be influenced by new options for cancer therapy, including via clinical trials. However, low readability of available online resources may impede patient comprehension and negatively affect medical decision-making.

Keywords: cancer; clinical trials; health literacy; immune checkpoint; immunotherapy; patient education.