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J Med Internet Res. 2011 Jan 17;13(1):e7. doi: 10.2196/jmir.1569.

Cancer survivorship in the age of YouTube and social media: a narrative analysis.

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Health Communication and Informatics Research Branch, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892, United States.



As evidenced by the increasing popularity of YouTube (, personal narratives shared through social media are an area of rapid development in communication among cancer survivors. Identifying the thematic and linguistic characteristics of YouTube cancer stories can provide a better understanding of this naturally occurring communication channel and inform social media communication efforts aiming to use personal stories to reach individuals with serious illnesses.


The objective of our study was to provide an in-depth description of authentic personal cancer stories. Through a linguistically based narrative analysis of YouTube stories, the analysis explicates the common attributes of these narratives.


Informed by narrative theories, we conducted an iterative, bottom-up analysis of 35 YouTube videos identified by the search terms "cancer survivor" and "cancer stories". A list of shared thematic and linguistic characteristics was identified and analyzed.


A subnarrative on the cancer diagnosis was present in 86% (30/35) of the stories under analysis. These diagnostic narratives were characterized by dramatic tension, emotional engagement, markers of the loss of agency or control, depersonalized reference to the medical personnel, and the unexpectedness of a cancer diagnosis. The analysis highlights the themes of story authenticity and emotional engagement in this online communication medium.


Internet advances have enabled new and efficient exchange of personal stories, including the sharing of personal cancer experience among cancer survivors and their caregivers. The analytic results of this descriptive study point to the common characteristics of authentic cancer survivorship stories online. Furthermore, the results of this descriptive study may inform development of narrative-based communication, particularly in maintaining authenticity and emotional engagement.

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