Prostate Cancer Websites Often Hard to Understand: Study

THURSDAY, Nov. 15 (HealthDay News) -- Many people trying to learn about prostate cancer may find themselves struggling to understand the information that is available online: only 4.8 percent of prostate cancer websites are written below a high school reading level, a new study finds.

Because 90 million American adults read below high school levels, the U.S. National Institutes of Health recommends that patient-education materials be written at a fourth- to sixth-grade level.

In the Loyola University Medical Center study, researchers assessed the reading grade level of 62 prostate cancer websites and found that 63 percent of the sites were written above a 12th-grade reading level and that the median reading level of all the sites was 12th grade. The websites with the easiest levels of readability ranged between the eighth- and 10th-grade levels.

"It was discouraging to find that only 4.8 percent of these sites had information written for those below a high school reading level," study senior author Dr. Gopal Gupta and colleagues said in a university news release. "No sites in our study were written at the level recommended by the NIH (fourth to sixth grade). Given that nearly one-third of the U.S. population reads below high school level, this raises the concern that many patients will have difficulty comprehending online information about prostate cancer treatment options."

The researchers noted that prostate cancer is among the more difficult topics for patients to understand. There are at least four treatment options and each option has pros and cons that vary according to factors such as a patient's age, tumor type and overall health.

"Clinicians should be aware that some of their patients may not be able to read online information and should consciously guide patients with low literacy to not only high-quality websites, but also sites that are easy to read to prevent confusion and anxiety after being diagnosed with prostate cancer," the study authors concluded.

The study was published online ahead of print in the Journal of Urology.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine offers a guide to healthy web surfing.

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