Studies spotlight misinformation in YouTube bladder and prostate cancer videos

Jason M. Broderick

A massive amount of misinformation and bias is being spread in YouTube videos on bladder and prostate cancer, according to 2 studies conducted at NYU Grossman School of Medicine and NYU Langone’s Perlmutter Cancer Center.1

Investigators on the bladder cancer study,2 led by Stacy Loeb, MD, MSc, ranked the overall quality of over two-thirds of the YouTube videos they assessed as poor to moderate. A moderate to high amount of misinformation was noted in 21% of the videos and a commercial bias was found in 17% of the videos.

In the prostate cancer study,3 also led by Loeb, it was discovered that over three-fourths of the videos included content that was potentially misinformative in the video itself or in the comments section. Further, while treatment benefits were highlighted in 75% of the videos, the risks of the treatments were only adequately described in 50%.

Bladder cancer videos

For the bladder cancer study, the investigators used these 2 validated instruments to score the quality of the videos: the Patient Education Materials Assessment Tool (PEMAT) and the DISCERN quality criteria for consumer health information.

The researchers found that there were 242,000 bladder cancer videos on YouTube and then used the 2 instruments to evaluate the first 150 of these. Overall, 67% of the 150 videos ranked as poor to moderate using DISCERN. Of concern, over 1 million (1,289,314) viewers watched the 21% of videos that were noted to have a moderate to high amount of misinformation, and 324,287 viewers watched the 17% of videos found by Loeb et al to contain commercial bias.

“Bladder cancer is the second most common urologic cancer worldwide, but evidence is lacking on the accuracy of information available on YouTube, the most popular social network,” Loeb, professor of Urology and Population Health at NYU Grossman School of Medicine and NYU Langone’s Perlmutter Cancer Center, stated in a press release.

“Our findings highlight an urgent need for more accurate, patient-friendly social media content,” added Loeb, who is also the incoming chair of the American Urological Association Public Media Committee.

Prostate cancer videos

Loeb et al used the same instruments—DISCERN and PEMAT—for the prostate cancer study that were used in the bladder cancer assessment. The investigators found that there were more than 600,000 videos about prostate cancer on YouTube and assessed the first 150 of these for their study.

Overall, 77% (n = 115) of the videos contained content that was potentially misinformative in the video itself or in the comments section. According to Loeb et al, these 115 videos reached more than 6 million viewers.

The potential benefits of treatments were highlighted in 75% of the 150 videos, while only 53% explained potential side effects and other risks. Further, only half of the videos advocated shared decision-making despite it being a key recommendation in current guidelines. Loeb et al’s analysis also determined that there was a significant negative correlation between the scientific quality of the videos and viewer engagement.

Advice for providers

Summarizing her advice to providers on these findings, Loeb said, “Having lots of ‘likes’ and views does not mean that a video is medically accurate. As health-care providers, we can help counter this trend by better communicating with patients and guiding them to trustworthy sources for additional information.”

In the press release highlighting the findings of the studies, Loeb provider several tips for providers:

  • “Engage in shared decision-making, clearly outlining the benefits and risks of treatment and offering actionable steps for patients.
  • Encourage patients to learn how to spot medical misinformation.
  • Arm patients with trustworthy sources of information, such as the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network, Prostate Cancer Foundation, the Urology Care Foundation, and the National Cancer Institute.
  • Actively participate in social media to disseminate accurate, evidence-based content.”

References

1. Many Popular YouTube Videos Spread Misinformation on Bladder & Prostate Cancer, Studies Find. Published online April 27, 2021. Accessed May 5, 2021. https://bit.ly/3xNYXID.

2. Loeb S, Reines K, Abu-Salha Y, et al. Quality of bladder cancer information on YouTube. Eur Urol. 2021;79(1):56-59. doi: 10.1016/j.eururo.2020.09.014

3. Loeb S, Sengupta S, Butaney M, et al. Dissemination of misinformative and biased information about prostate cancer on YouTube. Eur Urol. 2019;75(4):564-567. doi: 10.1016/j.eururo.2018.10.056