Perceived threat and internet use predict intentions to get bowel cancer screening (colonoscopy): Longitudinal questionnaire study
Number of pages
SourceJournal of Medical Internet Research, 20, 2, (2018), article e46
Article / Letter to editor
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SW OZ BSI SCP
Journal of Medical Internet Research
SubjectBehaviour Change and Well-being
Background: Many people use the Internet for health-related information search, which is known to help regulate their emotional state. However, not much is known yet about how Web-based information search together with negative emotional states (ie, threat of cancer diagnosis) relate to preventive medical treatment decisions (ie, colonoscopy intentions). Objective: The aim of this study was to investigate how frequency of health-related Internet use together with perceived threat of a possible (bowel) cancer diagnosis influences intentions to get a colonoscopy. Previous research has shown that people who experience threat preferentially process positive information in an attempt to downregulate the aversive emotional state. The Internet can facilitate this regulatory strategy through allowing self-directed, unrestricted, and thus biased information search. In the context of threat regarding a possible bowel cancer diagnosis, feelings of threat can still be effectively reduced through cancer screening (ie, colonoscopy). We, therefore, predict that in that particular context, feelings of threat should be related to stronger colonoscopy intentions, and that this relationship should be enhanced for people who use the Internet often. Methods: A longitudinal questionnaire study was conducted among healthy participants who were approaching or just entering the bowel cancer risk group (aged 45-55 years). Perceived threat of a possible (bowel) cancer diagnosis, frequency of health-related Internet use, and intentions to have a colonoscopy were assessed at 2 time points (6-month time lag between the 2 measurement points T1 and T2). Multiple regression analyses were conducted to test whether threat and Internet use at T1 together predicted colonoscopy intentions at T2. Results: In line with our predictions, we found that the threat of a possible (bowel) cancer diagnosis interacted with the frequency of Internet use (both T1) to predict colonoscopy intentions (T2; B=.23, standard error [SE]=0.09, P=.01). For people who used the Internet relatively often (+1 SD), the positive relationship between threat and colonoscopy intentions was significantly stronger (B=.56, SE=0.15, P<.001) compared with participants who used the Internet less often (-1 SD; B=.17, SE=0.09, P=.07). This relationship was unique to Web-based (vs other types of) information search and independent of risk factors (eg, body mass index [BMI] and smoking). Conclusions: The results of this study suggest that health-related Internet use can facilitate emotion-regulatory processes. People who feel threatened by a possible (bowel) cancer diagnosis reported stronger colonoscopy intentions, especially when they used the Internet often. We propose that this is because people who experience threat are more likely to search for and process information that allows them to downregulate their aversive emotional state. In the present case of (bowel) cancer prevention, the most effective way to reduce threat is to get screened.
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