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Is Social Networking Changing the Face of Medicine?
Date:6/8/2011

il found that 57 percent believed mammograms should start at age 40, while just 12 percent thought that 50 was the right age to start getting mammograms.

The American Cancer Society continues to recommend annual mammograms for women starting at age 40.

"People have their own health experience and they have often been suspicious of medicine, but you get a lot of people together with their own experiences that contradict medical advice, and it becomes a very potent social force," Barker said.

The study authors did not take a stand on the new guidelines, although they noted the recommendations were based on concerns about the link between radiation exposure and breast cancer, the risks and expense of false positives (and follow-up biopsies) and the "troubling lack" of an association between increased screening and declining mortality rates.

Seeking and sharing health information on the Internet is nothing new, of course. People have been doing it since the '90s, said Susannah Fox, associate director of the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project.

"In 2000, you might go online, punch in a few key words, and get some printouts to review or take to your doctors," Fox said. But technological changes -- such as broadband technology with faster connections and smart phones that enable people to text, swap emails and access the Internet remotely -- have vastly expanded the reach of that shared information.

Social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter have made what Fox calls "peer to peer health care" increase exponentially. Along with young people, women in their 30s, 40s and 50s are among the most likely to use social networking sites, the precise demographic that was up in arms about the mammogram guidelines, Fox said.

Many who post on message boards for breast cancer or other conditions aren't just venting, Fox said. They are digging around, sometimes reading source material, such as research
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