SNAPSHOT: Readability of Prostate Cancer Info


Though the internet is a popular source of health information, some resources can be overwhelmingly technical and difficult to understand. For aging males, who are both more at risk for prostate cancer and can have trouble with print materials, the problem multiplies. “Research shows that obtaining, processing, and understanding basic health information — essential components of health literacy — can impact our health outcomes,” said Professor Danna Ethan.

Ethan and Professor Joseph Fera, both of Lehman College, combined their backgrounds in health education and mathematics to analyze the readability of prostate cancer information available online. Their results appear in the American Journal of Men’s Health.

An older man sits in silhouette on the rocks by a lake

The researchers scrutinized 100 Google search results for “prostate cancer,” using five different tests to determine how easy each webpage was to understand. “The analysis showed that online material on prostate cancer is not being written at the recommended readability level,” Fera said.

Because confusion can transfer into a patient’s decision-making, the study says, it’s important to remember to talk with the experts, too. “While this material may help, it is the health care provider that should ultimately advise on screening and treatment options,” Ethan said.

Collaborators included researchers from William Paterson University, the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and Teachers College at Columbia University.