February 13, 2019
3 min read

YouTube videos on prostate cancer often misinformative, outdated

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Stacey Loeb
Stacy Loeb

The majority of the most popular prostate cancer videos posted on YouTube included inaccurate or biased content, according to study results.

Many of these videos also contained outdated information in terms of current screening guidelines and treatment recommendations.

“Our study shows that people need to be wary of many YouTube videos on prostate cancer,” Stacy Loeb, MD, MSc, urologist in the department of urology at NYU Langone Medical Center, said in a press release. “There is valuable information available in them, but people need to check the source to make sure it is credible and to beware of how quickly videos become outdated as care guidelines constantly evolve with science.”

Loeb and colleagues — including prostate cancer and health communications experts — sought to evaluate the educational value of the 150 most-viewed prostate cancer videos on YouTube. They used the validated DISCERN quality criteria for consumer health information, and they used the Patient Education Materials Assessment Tool to compare results with user engagement.

Results showed that 77% of the videos presented factually incorrect or biased information within the video or comments section. Nearly half of the videos failed to discuss potential harms of various treatments, and 19% recommended unproven alternative therapies.

HemOnc Today spoke with Loeb about the study and the potential implications of the results.

Question: What prompted this research ?

Answer: We were aware of the abundance of information available on the internet regarding prostate cancer, and we are very interested in social media specifically due to its interactive nature. I am very active in social media within the prostate cancer sphere. All of these triggered my interest in conducting studies on the quality of prostate cancer information on different social media platforms, beginning with YouTube.

Q: How did you conduct the study?

A: We examined the first 150 videos on YouTube about prostate cancer screening and treatment. We used validated criteria to assess the quality, understandability and actionability of consumer health information. Prostate cancer experts viewed the videos and scored the overall quality of information. We then calculated the relationship between the quality of information and user engagement.

Q: What did you find?

A: The overall quality of information about prostate cancer on YouTube was moderate (3 on a scale of 5). More of the videos had sufficient description of the benefits of screening and treatment compared with the harms, which were described with a moderate to good description in 53% of the videos. Most concerning was that 77% of the videos or comments under the videos had some type of misinformative or biased content, and these videos reached more than 6 million viewers.


Q: Did the results surprise you?

A: The surprising finding was that there was a negative correlation between the scientific quality and viewer engagement. This is to say that the videos in the sample with lower quality had higher numbers of views and ‘thumbs-up’ ratings. This is especially concerning that people are engaging with this misinformative content.

Q: What is the take-home message for clinicians?

A: First, we as clinicians should be actively engaged in social media. It is part of our responsibility to provide proper education to the public. We need to try to raise the signal above the noise. Second, health care providers should also provide patients with recommendations for trusted sources of additional information. It also is important for health consumers to pay attention to the source of the information when viewing online content, as well as the dates videos are posted, because guidelines change and the information in these videos may no longer be accurate.

Q: D o you have any plans for additional research?

A: We are planning future studies to identify which features of the videos appear to be most salient, so that we can provide more recommendations for those involved in content creation on how to make high-quality videos that are also engaging. We also plan to conduct analyses on the quality of prostate cancer information on other social media platforms. We already have started some collaborations with other medical experts to evaluate the quality of YouTube videos for other health issues. – by Jennifer Southall


Loeb S, et al. Eur Urol. 2018;doi:10.1016/j.eururo.2018.10.056.

For more information:

Stacy Loeb, MD, MSc, can be reached at NYU Langone Medical Center, 550 1st Ave., New York, NY 10016; email: stacyloeb@gmail.com.

Disclosure: Loeb reports no relevant financial disclosures.