Skip to main content


Log in

Social media for breast cancer survivors: a literature review

  • Review
  • Published:
Journal of Cancer Survivorship Aims and scope Submit manuscript



Social media may offer support to individuals who are navigating the complex and challenging experience of cancer. A growing body of literature has been published over the last decade exploring the ways cancer survivors utilize social media. This study aims to provide a systematic synthesis of the current literature in order to inform cancer health communication practice and cancer survivorship research.


Using PRISMA guidelines, four electronic databases were searched to retrieve publications on breast cancer and social media published between 2005 and 2015. The final sample included 98 publications (13 commentaries and reviews, 47 descriptive studies, and 38 intervention studies). Intervention studies were assessed for key features and outcome measures. Studies utilizing content analysis were further evaluated qualitatively.


Online support groups were the most commonly studied platform, followed by interactive message boards and web forums. Limited research focuses on non-Caucasian populations. Psychosocial well-being was the most commonly measured outcome of interest. While social media engagement was assessed, few standardized measures were identified. Content analyses of social media interactions were prevalent, though few articles linked content to health outcomes.


The current literature highlights the impact and potential utility of social media for breast cancer survivors. Future studies should consider connecting social media engagement and content to psychosocial, behavioral, and physical health outcomes.

Implications for Cancer Survivors

Online groups and communities may improve the well-being of breast cancer survivors by providing opportunities to engage with wider social networks, connect with others navigating similar cancer experiences, and obtain cancer-related information. Researchers should consider the potential role of social media in addressing the unmet needs of breast cancer survivors, and particularly the implications for clinical and public health practice.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. The American Cancer Society. ACS report: number of US cancer survivors expected to exceed 20 million by 2026. Available from: 2016.

  2. The National Cancer Institute. SEER stat fact sheets: female breast cancer. . 2016.

  3. Stein KD, Syrjala KL, Andrykowski MA. Physical and psychological long-term and late effects of cancer. Cancer. 2008;112(S11):2577–92.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  4. Chirikos TN, Russell-Jacobs A, Cantor AB. Indirect economic effects of long-term breast cancer survival. Cancer Pract. 2002;10(5):248–55.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  5. Mehnert A, Koch U. Psychological comorbidity and health-related quality of life and its association with awareness, utilization, and need for psychosocial support in a cancer register-based sample of long-term breast cancer survivors. J Psychosom Res. 2008;64(4):383–91.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  6. Melisko M, Gradishar W, Moy B. Issues in breast cancer survivorship: optimal care, bone health, and lifestyle modifications. in American Society of Clinical Oncology educational book/ASCO. American Society of Clinical Oncology. Meeting. 2015.

  7. Adler, NE., A.E. Page. Committee on psychosocial services to cancer patients/families in a community setting. 2008.

  8. Alfano CM, Rowland JH. Recovery issues in cancer survivorship: a new challenge for supportive care. The Cancer Journal. 2006;12(5):432–43.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  9. McCabe MS, Bhatia S, Oeffinger KC, Reaman GH, Tyne C, Wollins DS, Hudson MM. American Society of Clinical Oncology statement: achieving high-quality cancer survivorship care. J Clin Oncol. 2013;31(5):631–40.

  10. Klemm P, Bunnell D, Cullen M, Soneji R, Gibbons P, Holecek A. Online cancer support groups: a review of the research literature. Comput Inform Nurs. 2003;21(3):136–42.

  11. Ziebland S. The importance of being expert: the quest for cancer information on the Internet. Soc Sci Med. 2004;59(9):1783–93.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  12. Ziebland S, Chapple A, Dumelow C, Evans J, Prinjha S, Rozmovits L. How the internet affects patients’ experience of cancer: a qualitative study. BMJ. 2004;328(7439):564.

  13. Kaplan AM, Haenlein M. Users of the world, unite! The challenges and opportunities of Social Media. Business horizons. 2010;53(1):59–68.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Thackeray R, Crookston BT, West JH. Correlates of health-related social media use among adults. J Med Internet Res. 2013;15(1):e21.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  15. Moorhead SA, Hazlett DE, Harrison L, Carroll JK, Irwin A, Hoving C. A new dimension of health care: systematic review of the uses, benefits, and limitations of social media for health communication. J Med Internet Res. 2013;15(4):e85.

  16. Korda H, Itani Z. Harnessing social media for health promotion and behavior change. Health Promot Pract. 2013;14(1):15–23.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  17. Merolli M, Gray K, Martin-Sanchez F. Health outcomes and related effects of using social media in chronic disease management: a literature review and analysis of affordances. J Biomed Inform. 2013;46(6):957–69.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  18. Koskan A, Klasko L, Davis SN, Gwede CK, Wells KJ, Kumar A, Lopez N, Meade CD. Use and taxonomy of social media in cancer-related research: a systematic review. Am J Public Health. 2014;104(7):e20–37.

  19. Carlsson ME. Cancer patients seeking information from sources outside the health care system. Support Care Cancer. 2000;8(6):453–7.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  20. Wallner LP, Martinez KA, Li Y, Jagsi R, Janz NK, Katz SJ, Hawley ST. Use of online communication by patients with newly diagnosed breast cancer during the treatment decision process. JAMA Oncol. 2016;2(12):1654–6.

  21. McLaughlin M, Nam Y, Gould J, Pade C, Meeske KA, Ruccione KS, Fulk J. A videosharing social networking intervention for young adult cancer survivors. Comput Hum Behav. 2012;28(2):631–41.

  22. Namkoong K, McLaughlin B, Yoo W, Hull SJ, Shah DV, Kim SC, Moon TJ, Johnson CN, Hawkins RP, McTavish FM, Gustafson DH. The effects of expression: how providing emotional support online improves cancer patients’ coping strategies. J Natl Cancer Inst Monogr. 2013;47:169–74.

  23. Chung DS, Kim S. Blogging activity among cancer patients and their companions: uses, gratifications, and predictors of outcomes. J Am Soc Inf Sci Technol. 2008;59(2):297–306.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. The National Cancer Institute, NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms, 2017. Available from:

  25. Chou WY, Prestin A, Lyons C, Wen KY. Web 2.0 for health promotion: reviewing the current evidence. Am J Public Health. 2013;103(1):e9–18.

  26. Paxton RJ, Nayak P, Taylor WC, Chang S, Courneya KS, Schover L, Hodges K, Jones LA. African-American breast cancer survivors’ preferences for various types of physical activity interventions: a Sisters Network Inc. web-based survey. J Cancer Surviv. 2014;8(1):31–8.

  27. Changrani J, Lieberman M, Golant M, Rios P, Damman J, Gany F. Online cancer support groups: experiences with underserved immigrant Latinas. Prim Psychiatry. 2008;15(10):55–62.

  28. McTavish FM, Gustafson DH, Owens BH, Wise M, Taylor JO, Apantaku FM, Berhe H, Thorson B. CHESS: an interactive computer system for women with breast cancer piloted with an under-served population. in Proceedings of the Annual Symposium on Computer Application in Medical Care. 1994. American Medical Informatics Association.

  29. Han JY, Kim JH, Yoon HJ, Shim M, McTavish FM, Gustafson DH. Social and psychological determinants of levels of engagement with an online breast cancer support group: posters, lurkers, and nonusers. J Health Commun. 2012;17(3):356–71.

  30. Kim E, Han JY, Moon TJ, Shaw B, Shah DV, McTavish FM, Gustafson DH. The process and effect of supportive message expression and reception in online breast cancer support groups. Psycho-Oncology. 2012;21(5):531–40.

  31. Klemm P. Effects of online support group format (moderated vs peer-led) on depressive symptoms and extent of participation in women with breast cancer. CIN: Computers, Informatics, Nursing. 2012;30(1):9–18.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  32. Lepore SJ, Buzaglo JS, Lieberman MA, Golant M, Greener JR, Davey A. Comparing standard versus prosocial internet support groups for patients with breast cancer: a randomized controlled trial of the helper therapy principle. J Clin Oncol. 2014;32(36):4081–6.

  33. Bantum EOC, Albright CL, White KK, Berenberg JL, Layi G, Ritter PL, Laurent D, Plant K, Lorig K. Surviving and thriving with cancer using a Web-based health behavior change intervention: randomized controlled trial. J Med Internet Res. 2014;16(2):e54.

  34. Shaw B, Han JY, Kim E, Gustafson D, Hawkins R, Cleary J, McTavish F, Pingree S, Eliason P, Lumpkins C. Effects of prayer and religious expression within computer support groups on women with breast cancer. Psycho-Oncology. 2007;16(7):676–87.

  35. Lieberman M. The role of insightful disclosure in outcomes for women in peer-directed breast cancer groups: a replication study. Psycho-Oncology. 2007;16(10):961–4.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  36. Chen Z, Koh PW, Ritter PL, Lorig K, Bantum EO, Saria S.  Dissecting an online intervention for cancer survivors four exploratory analyses of Internet engagement and its effects on health status and health behaviors. Health Educ Behav. 2015;42(1):32–45.

  37. Grau I, Grajales FJ III, Gene-Badia J, Siso A, de Semir M. Forumclinic: the shaping of virtual communities to assist patients with chronic diseases. Enabling Health and Healthcare Through ICT: Available, Tailored and Closer. 2013;183:271.

    Google Scholar 

  38. Shaw BR, Hawkins R, Arora N, McTavish FI, Pingree S, Gustafson DH. An exploratory study of predictors of participation in a computer support group for women with breast cancer. CIN: Computers, Informatics, Nursing. 2006;24(1):18–27.

  39. Owen JE, Bantum EO, Gorlick A, Stanton AL. Engagement with a social networking intervention for cancer-related distress. Ann Behav Med. 2015;49(2):154–64.

  40. Stephen J, Collie K, McLeod D, Rojubally A, Fergus K, Speca M, Turner J, Taylor-Brown J, Sellick S, Burrus K, Elramly M. Talking with text: communication in therapist-led, live chat cancer support groups. Soc Sci Med. 2014;104:178–86.

  41. Huang K-Y, Chengalur-Smith I, Ran W. Not just for support: companionship activities in healthcare virtual support communities. Commun Assoc Inf Syst. 2014;34(29):561–94.

    Google Scholar 

  42. Wang Y-C, Kraut RE, Levine JM. Eliciting and receiving online support: using computer-aided content analysis to examine the dynamics of online social support. J Med Internet Res. 2015;17(4):e99.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  43. Rubenstein EL. Things my doctor never told me: bridging information gaps in an online community. Proceedings of the American Society for Information Science and Technology. 2012;49(1):1–10.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Harris LN, Cleary EH, Stanton AL. Project connect online: user and visitor experiences of an Internet-based intervention for women with breast cancer. Psycho-Oncology. 2015;24(9):1145–51.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  45. Fox S, Purcell K. Social media and health. Pew Research Center, 2010. Available from:

  46. Abramson K, Keefe B, Chou WYS. Communicating about cancer through Facebook: a qualitative analysis of a breast cancer awareness page. J Health Commun. 2015;20(2):237–43.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  47. Fox S. Cancer 2.0. Pew Research Center, 2010. Available from:

  48. Glanz K, Bishop DB. The role of behavioral science theory in development and implementation of public health interventions. Annu Rev Public Health. 2010;31:399–418.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  49. Lieberman MA, Goldstein BA. Not all negative emotions are equal: the role of emotional expression in online support groups for women with breast cancer. Psycho-Oncology. 2006;15(2):160–8.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  50. Bowen DJ, Alfano CM, McGregor BA, Kuniyuki A, Bernstein L, Meeske K, Baumgartner KB, Fetherolf J, Reeve BB, Smith AW, Ganz PA.  Possible socioeconomic and ethnic disparities in quality of life in a cohort of breast cancer survivors. Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2007;106(1):85–95.

  51. Newman LA, Griffith KA, Jatoi I, Simon MS, Crowe JP, Colditz GA. Meta-analysis of survival in African American and white American patients with breast cancer: ethnicity compared with socioeconomic status. J Clin Oncol. 2006;24(9):1342–9.

  52. Han JY, Hou J, Kim E, Gustafson DH. Lurking as an active participation process: a longitudinal investigation of engagement with an online cancer support group. Health Commun. 2014;29(9):911–23.

  53. Han JY, Shaw BR, Hawkins RP, Pingree S, McTavish F, Gustafson DH. Expressing positive emotions within online support groups by women with breast cancer. J Health Psychol. 2008;13(8):1002–7.

  54. Kim E, Han JY, Shah D, Shaw B, McTavish F, Gustafson DH, Fan D. Predictors of supportive message expression and reception in an interactive cancer communication system. J Health Commun. 2011;16(10):1106–21.

  55. Lieberman MA. Effects of disease and leader type on moderators in online support groups. Comput Hum Behav. 2008;24(5):2446–55.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. Radin P. “To me, it’s my life”: medical communication, trust, and activism in cyberspace. Soc Sci Med. 2006;62(3):591–601.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  57. Rimer BK, Lyons EJ, Ribisl KM, Bowling JM, Golin CE, Forlenza MJ, Meier A. How new subscribers use cancer-related online mailing lists. J Med Internet Res. 2005;7(3):e32.

  58. Shim M, Cappella JN, Han JY. How does insightful and emotional disclosure bring potential health benefits? Study based on online support groups for women with breast cancer. J Commun. 2011;61(3):432–54.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  59. Han JY, Shah DV, Kim E, Namkoong K, Lee SY, Moon TJ, Cleland R, Bu QL, McTavish FM, Gustafson DH. Empathic exchanges in online cancer support groups: distinguishing message expression and reception effects. Health Commun. 2011;26(2):185–97.

  60. Lewallen AC, Owen JE, Bantum EO, Stanton AL. How language affects peer responsiveness in an online cancer support group: implications for treatment design and facilitation. Psycho-Oncology. 2014;23(7):766–72.

  61. Lieberman MA, Winzelberg A. The relationship between religious expression and outcomes in online support groups: a partial replication. Comput Hum Behav. 2009;25(3):690–4.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  62. Morris BA, Lepore SJ, Wilson B, Lieberman MA, Dunn J, Chambers SK. Adopting a survivor identity after cancer in a peer support context. J Cancer Surviv. 2014;8(3):427–36.

  63. Portier K, Greer GE, Rokach L, Ofek N, Wang Y, Biyani P, Yu M, Banerjee S, Zhao K, Mitra P, Yen J. Understanding topics and sentiment in an online cancer survivor community. JNCI Monographs. 2013;47:195–8.

  64. Seçkin G. I am proud and hopeful: age-based comparisons in positive coping affect among women who use online peer-support. J Psychosoc Oncol. 2011;29(5):573–91.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  65. Setoyama Y, Yamazaki Y, Namayama K. Benefits of peer support in online Japanese breast cancer communities: differences between lurkers and posters. J Med Internet Res. 2011;13(4):e122.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  66. Shaw BR, Han JY, Baker T, Witherly J, Hawkins RP, McTavish F, Gustafson DH. How women with breast cancer learn using interactive cancer communication systems. Health Educ Res. 2007;22(1):108–19.

  67. Shaw BR, Han JY, Hawkins RP, McTavish FM, Gustafson DH. Communicating about self and others within an online support group for women with breast cancer and subsequent outcomes. J Health Psychol. 2008;13(7):930–9.

  68. Stanton AL, Thompson EH, Crespi CM, Link JS, Waisman JR. Project connect online: randomized trial of an internet-based program to chronicle the cancer experience and facilitate communication. J Clin Oncol. 2013;31(27):3411–7.

  69. Stephen J, Rojubally A, MacGregor K, McLeod D, Speca M, Taylor–Brown J, Fergus K, Collie K, Turner J, Sellick S, Mackenzie G. Evaluation of CancerChatCanada: a program of online support for Canadians affected by cancer. Curr Oncol. 2013;20(1):39–47.

  70. Vilhauer RP, McClintock MK, Matthews AK. Online support groups for women with metastatic breast cancer: a feasibility pilot study. J Psychosoc Oncol. 2010;28(5):560–86.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  71. Wakelin K, Street AF. An online expressive writing group for people affected by cancer: a virtual third place. Aust Soc Work. 2015;68(2):198–211.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Angela L. Falisi.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Statement on the welfare of animals

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.

Informed consent

Not applicable; this manuscript does not include any studies with human participants performed by the authors.

Appendix 1

Appendix 1

Table 3 Summary of intervention articles

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Falisi, A.L., Wiseman, K.P., Gaysynsky, A. et al. Social media for breast cancer survivors: a literature review. J Cancer Surviv 11, 808–821 (2017).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: