A study of postings to internet sites suggests that men and women with cancer look for information about the disease in very different ways.
While men seek practical advice and the latest medical treatments, women look for emotional support. Professor of sociology Clive Seale thinks his findings can help inform those who support cancer patients.
Then two popular forums - www.prostate-cancer.org.uk and www.breastcancercare.org.uk - were examined for key words in the online postings.
Professor Seale, of Brunel University, found that men's primary concerns were treatments, tests, symptoms, procedures and side-effects of drugs.
Women were more likely to seek social and emotional support, share personal experiences and talk about the impact of cancer on relationships and family.
Prof Seale said the results show that men could be missing out on help to deal with their feelings and relationships. ‘Equally some women may be missing out on medical information. One could imagine that each gender could benefit from what the other gender is interested in.’
Dr Chris Hiley, head of policy and research at The Prostate Cancer Charity, said it was very important that the differences were understood. ‘We know that not all cancers are the same and that individuals will handle their cancer in different ways, but it is fascinating that Professor Seale's research clearly shows, in general, a gender split in the preferred style of communication.
‘It's obviously important that people affected by cancer are able to participate in forums and chatrooms in a way that suits their individual styles and needs over time. Dr Hiley said the research would help The Prostate Cancer Charity to make its communications as beneficial to people as possible..
The study will be published in the May edition of Social Science and Medicine.
Forty-five women and 52 men with cancer were questioned, and 1,053 web postings by cancer patients analysed. In the first phase of the research, the men spoken to had prostate cancer and the women had breast cancer. Prof Seale said about half of the people on the prostate cancer forum were women who had a loved one struck by the cancer and many men had joined the breast cancer forum for the same reason.