Online and Digital Videos Can Play Key Role in Cancer Education


Research shows that digital videos led to increased knowledge and interventions, but access for vulnerable populations must be improved.

Online and digital videos have the potential to be useful and innovative tools that improve health outcomes, but limited access to technology and health literacy must be taken into account during the development of such videos, according to researchers from The Cancer Health and Justice Lab at Rutgers university.

Their systematic review, which was published in the Journal of Cancer Education, looked at 11 articles focusing on increasing education on specific preventive health behaviors through digital videos.

“As more and more people are accessing the Internet as a medium to gather information on a wide variety of different health topics, digital videos present an opportunity to disseminate and gain knowledge of general health information,” wrote the authors.

The review analyzed 11 studies with 3primary outcomes – information preference (n = 2), knowledge (n = 9), and behavioral modification/intentions (n = 3). The authors found that watching videos on YouTube (M = 3.67, SD = 1.38) led to higher comprehension when compared with Twitter (M = 3.11, SD = 1.49), with videos on YouTube (M = 5.93, SD = 0.98) 

also leading to stronger attitudes among participants in terms of taking the necessary steps for cancer risk reduction when compared with videos for Facebook (M = 5.65, SD = 0.89).

Knowledge was defined as how participants performed or remembered information after viewing digital videos on the Internet. Assessment was administered via pre- and post-test when watching an online video. Study participants showed an increase in lung cancer knowledge ([pre-test 25.5%; SD = 20.7] vs [post-test 74.8%; SD = 20.2]), knowledge of vaginitis ([pre M = 0.29; SD = 0.44] vs [post M = 0.68; SD = 0.45]), and cervical cancer ([pre M = 0.42; SD = 0.40] vs [M = 0.76; SD = 0.40]).

For the 3 studies that specifically assessed modifications of behavior and prevention strategies, the researchers found that those who experienced video intervention self-reported higher actions taken (2.98 vs 2.04; P = 0.004) in regard to exposure and knowledge of perfluorooctanoic acid. Additionally, 75% of participants reported administering a self-skin examination vs 9.49% of participants at baseline, with 78.8% of participants indicating a stronger interest in lung cancer screening as a result of better understanding the benefits of low-dose computed tomography. 

“With 87% of adult online users reporting the use of cellular phones to seek information as a preferred choice, short digital videos could be used to provide quick, timely, and tailored health information on specific topics,” the researchers wrote.

Despite the demonstrated effectiveness of online videos as an educational tool, the researchers did issue criticism of the studies they analyzed, noting that only 3 of the studies focused on vulnerable populations, and only 1 study focused on the use of mobile interventions.

“From 2013 to 2017, the use of smartphones in households earning less than $30,000 increased by 12%,” noted the authors. “The implementation of digital videos in mobile interventions can play a vital role in reaching disadvantaged populations.”

They called for future research to focus on the use of popular social media sites like YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook as a means to reach and further educate more diverse populations, adding that “providing a linkage between mobile phone and online digital videos can further increase health literacy and possible long-term health outcomes.” 


Acuna N, Vento I, Alzate-Duque L, Valera P. Harnessing Digital Videos to Promote Cancer Prevention and Education: A Systematic Review of the Literature from 2013-2018. J Cancer Educ. 2019 Nov 9. doi: 10.1007/s13187-019-01624-0. [Epub ahead of print]

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