YouTube-Based Cancer Advice: Popular But Faulty

Research into the top 150 videos on YouTube regarding prostate cancer showed that 77 percent of them contained errors or a bias, either in their content or comments section. The most popular videos tended to be the worst offenders, tending to focus on just the benefits.

Prostate cancer is represented in over 600,000 YouTube videos, each with thousands of times. Those numbers mean that millions of viewers are getting invalid, misguided information. Online hubs of information and cancer support are only useful when those venues are accurate and without bias. Anyone seeking advice online would be well served in researching a source’s credentials and motives; ensure advice is uncompromised.

The researchers, representative of several major universities, conducted this survey by using YouTube’s search engine and looking at videos found through searching for specific terms. The two terms the team used were “prostate cancer screening” and “prostate cancer treatment.” The videos were then compared to the Discern questionnaire in order to gauge the quality of a given video’s healthcare information between a scale of 1, meaning “poor quality information” to 5, meaning “top quality.” Said questionnaire ask 16 questions. These questions seek to examine the aims, relevance, sources, biases and uncertainties of a source. Videos were also examined according to their popularity, represented by looking at a video’s total views and how many viewers decided to give the video a “thumbs-up.”

After putting all of the videos through the questionnaire, 63 percent of the pool of videos scored less than a 3; 20 percent of them scored a 1. 77 percent of the total pool was found to have some element of bias, either in the information presented within the video or the video’s accompanying comment section. 75 percent of videos scored well in describing treatment benefits, only 53 percent did a competent job at describing the harms of such treatment. Roughly half of the videos supported shared decision-making, meaning patients and doctors work together to come to a decision free of bias. 27 percent of videos had a commercial bent to their content, a full quarter of them espoused new, unproven treatments and 19 percent suggested treatments that were either complementary or alternative. Lastly, the study discovered that video popularity was driven mainly by commercial companies and their patients.

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