YouTube as a source of prostate cancer information

Researchers at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire have analyzed the prostate cancer videos on YouTube for information content and the presence of bias. They conclude that, “although some videos are robust sources of information, given the preponderance of modest and unbalanced information among reviewed videos, YouTube is an inadequate source of prostate cancer information for patients.”

Apparently the researchers searched YouTube for content related to PSA testing, radiotherapy, and surgery for prostate cancer. All videos identified and reviewed were in English and were < 10 minutes long. Two physician viewers watched each video and assigned a score for information content (excellent, fair, poor) and bias (for, against, neutral, or balanced). A third viewer arbitrated any discrepancies.

The results of their study were as follows:

  • 14 PSA videos, 5 radiotherapy videos, and 32 surgery videos were analyzed.
  • The PSA testing videos averaged 1,480 ± 2,196 views, were 146 ± 174 s long, and had an average viewer rating of 3.1 ± 2.1 (based on a viewer rating scale of 0-5).
  • The surgery videos averaged 2,044 ± 3,740 views, were 172 ± 122 s long, and had an average viewer rating of scored 3.0 ± 2.2.
  • The radiotherapy videos averaged 287 ± 255 views, were 97 ± 45 s long, and had a an average viewer rating of 1.8 ± 2.5.
  • The physician reviewers rated the video content as fair or poor for 73 percent of all videos.
  • Bias in favor of surgery, radiotherapy, or PSA testing was present in 69 percent of videos.
  • None of the videos were biased against treatment or PSA testing.
  • Interobserver variability (on the part of the physician reviewers) was well above what might have been expected by chance alone.

This is a very small study, and of course we do not know exactly which videos were reviewed in this study. It is also true that “bias” in assessing the validity of certain types of patient education is very much “in the eye of the reviewer.”  We are all biased by our education, our understanding of the available data, and our assessment of the validity of specific data.

The “New” Prostate Cancer InfoLink would, however, agree with the authors that many videos on YouTube are developed with a specific point of view and/or a marketing intent, and it would be highly inappropriate for a newly diagnosed patient to start making decisions about treatment based exclusively on watching a couple of randomly selected videos on YouTube. On the other hand, the quality of web-based video material about prostate cancer designed to help educate patients is, in our opinion, improving, and we suggest that any newly diagnosed patient who likes his education in video format takes a look at the extensive range of resources developed by Dr. Gerald Chodak on (many of which also appear on You Tube).

2 Responses

  1. Why would researchers at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center do this type of research? Sure YouTube can be biased. But a urologist can be biased towards surgery and a radiation oncologist can be biased towards radiation. YouTube should be used as a tool (information) and not a decision-maker. I can’t understand the purpose of this research? Just asking …

  2. That’s a question you’d have to ask the research team. Unfortunately they didn’t provide a contact e-mail with their abstract. Probably just the usual academic curiosity. This would hardly be an expensive study to carry out, and “publish or perish” is still a wise mantra for someone working in academic medicine!

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