Advertisements on Facebook and other popular social media platforms can encourage people to get a cancer screening, which would help patients spot the disease early enough to get timely treatment, scientists say. According to researchers, even with the recommendation of a primary care physician, people tend to procrastinate or simply forget to schedule an appointment for cancer screening -- a simple step that could save many lives. "The idea was to start a text messaging campaign for cancer prevention," said Andrea Dwyer, of University of Colorado in the US.
Advertising including radio slots, Facebook promotions and even locally-posted flyers encouraged people in the community to text a given number to opt into information and reminders about cancer screening.
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Radio and flyers were largely unsuccessful in driving enrollment. However, Facebook advertising resulted in 22,600 Facebook users exposed to ads.
"Facebook was a good mechanism. The engagement was high with Facebook ads, and those who viewed ads clicked through to the sign-up page, an indication of intent to enroll," said Dwyer.
Once people signed up, they stayed enrolled. A full 96 per cent of participants who texted to sign up stayed enrolled to receive all planned information/reminders, researchers said.
The group sees social media, and specifically Facebook, as a way to reach people living in areas where information about cancer prevention might otherwise be lacking, for example in rural areas of Colorado.
Dwyer said that in a future iteration of the project, the group may explore opt-out rather than opt-in strategies, potentially including enrollment through consent at primary care locations or bundling the delivery of information via text with existing health management apps.
Technically, the answer to whether Facebook advertising can prevent cancer remains unanswered -- it is impossible to tell how many patients who otherwise would have developed cancer were caught early due to the group's text-based information program.
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However, the study did confirm that new strategies of communication, can be an effective way to reach hard-to-reach populations with information and strategies for cancer prevention.