Aarhus University Seal / Aarhus Universitets segl

Young Danish cancer patients'

use and experience of social media

An increasing number of young Danish cancer patients use social media during their illness. With the project we want investigate, which social media that are used for which cancer related purposes, the types of cancer narrative shared by the patients on social media and how the patients experience the meaning and role of social media during their illness.

The main purpose of the research project is to create knowledge and thus contribute with insights on

  • the experiences and media practices of a specific patient group, which often feels invisible or marginalized in the healthcare system (Sperling, 2015)
  • how to better reach a specific patient group through more sustained knowledge about their social media habits
  • the new and increasing importance of social media during cancer for current - and equally important – future patients as the share of digital natives expands.

Challenges for the young cancer patients

Each year approximately 500 Danish youngsters (age 15-29 (Sperling et al., 2015)) are diagnosed with cancer.

This group faces very particular challenges as the diagnosis disturbs important processes of transition (from child to grown-up) and identity formation (related to education, sexuality or family building, for instance) (Boisen et al., 2013, Graugaard, 2013).

Culturally speaking, youngsters with cancer are also positioned in a tension between invisibility and visibility.

They are on the one hand culturally (and institutionally) implausible (young people are not supposed to get cancer), which often results in late diagnoses and a health care system which is less prepared to handle the specific problems of this patient group (Sperling et al., 2015).

On the other hand, they are increasingly culturally visible because they are more willing to publically share affectively involving (real time) narratives of cancer on blogs, YouTube and social networking sites (SNSs) (e.g. Facebook and Instagram).

SoMe and the young cancer patients

Very little academic knowledge exists concerning

  • how young cancer patients actually use existing social media platforms for various cancer-related purposes
  • what characterize the cancer narratives they share on social media
  • how young cancer patients experience the ubiquitous presence of social media in their life during cancer     

Methodologically the research project seeks to obtain further knowledge through a mixed methods research design consisting of

  1. a survey mapping the social media habits and experiences of 200 young Danish cancer patients
  2. narrative analysis of public social media profiles of 25 young Danish cancer patients
  3. qualitative interviews (online or offline) with the same 25 young Danish cancer patients focused on their media use and experiences.