Are Cancer Patients More Apt to Believe COVID Lies?

Misinformation about COVID-19 abounds, and cancer patients who are currently receiving treatment are more likely to believe COVID lies than cancer survivors who’ve completed treatment and people who’ve never had cancer, a new study says.

The findings are from a survey of nearly 900 U.S. adults about evenly divided into the three groups.

“These findings help us better understand the threat of COVID-19 misinformation in an already vulnerable population,” said study lead author Jeanine Guidry, an assistant professor in Virginia Commonwealth University’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture.

“Understanding who is more likely to believe certain types of misinformation brings us closer to understanding why this is the case, which, in turn, may help us address this concerning issue,” Guidry explained in a university news release.

The researchers outlined a number of possible reasons for their findings.

“It may be that survivors currently undergoing treatment have heightened anxiety about how the current pandemic will impact their course of survival, leading them to seek out more information on the internet or via social media where they are more exposed to misinformation,” they wrote.

Also, increased information seeking may impact cancer patients’ information-processing abilities. They may jump to conclusions, rather than use “more critical, central processing routes of assessing information credibility.”

The study also found that cancer survivors who are no longer in treatment may have greater experience evaluating online information.

“Our cancer survivors, they’ve gone through this journey and come out the other end, knowing you can’t believe everything you read on the internet — they know you have to talk to your doctor and other people who are knowledgeable about these issues,” said study senior author Bernard Fuemmeler, a chair in cancer research at VCU Massey Cancer Center.

The findings suggest that health care providers need to be aware that cancer patients undergoing treatment are susceptible to COVID-19 misinformation.

A previous study by the same team found that parents of children with cancer were more likely to believe COVID-19 misinformation than parents of children with no cancer history.

The new study was published in the February print issue of Patient Education and Counseling.

More information

To get the facts on COVID-19, see the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.