Evaluating Cancer Information on the Internet

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 02/2017

Listen to the Cancer.Net Podcast: Evaluating Cancer Treatment Options on the Internet, adapted from this content.

The Internet is a useful tool for finding cancer information and connecting with other patients and caregivers. But sometimes it is hard to know if the information you are reading is reliable. Because anyone can put content on the Internet, use good judgment when searching online for information. Be critical about the sources you use. And discuss the information you find with your health care team.

Ask yourself the following questions as you visit websites with cancer information:

Who runs the website? The person or organization that operates the website should clearly identify who they are on the site. This way, visitors know the source and purpose of the information. The “About Us” section will often tell you who runs the site. Use this knowledge to judge the content you find on the website.

Who is responsible for the website's content? Reliable websites tell you who edits and approves the content. They also tell you how to contact the organization that runs the website. For example, the About Us section on Cancer.Net provides a list of Cancer.Net Editorial Board members. It also includes the seal of approval from the Health on the Net (HON) Foundation. The HON Foundation is the organization that created a set of guidelines for health and medical websites. The Cancer.Net Contact Us link provides phone numbers and email addresses for people to use.

Be careful with information posted in discussion groups or on online bulletin boards. While these formats can provide helpful support, there can also be misinformation or information that is out of date.  No one may be regularly reviewing or updating this part of a website.

Who funds the website? Some websites may present information as scientific fact but are actually promoting a product in return for profit. This is called “bias.” High-quality websites make it easy to tell the difference between advertisements and medical information. Avoid websites that promote a specific medicine or treatment over another.

How does the website maintain your privacy? A website may ask you to give private information, such as your name, address, e-mail, or diagnosis. Consider what you are comfortable sharing, especially your personal health information. Before doing so, look for the website’s security or privacy policy that explains how the website will use this information. For example, read Cancer.Net's privacy policy.

Where do they get their information? Reliable cancer information is based on scientific fact, not personal feelings or experiences. When learning about treatment options, look for links or references to research studies. If information is an opinion or personal experience, the website should clearly label it as an opinion or experience.

How current is the information on the website? Cancer information changes quickly as researchers learn more about different cancer types and create new treatments. As a result, information that is several years old may no longer be correct. Look for a date at the beginning or end of an article to see when it was published or last reviewed.

Does the website have a linking policy? Links may take you to other websites. Be aware that the new website may not have the same standards as the one you left. Some sites will link only to websites that meet specific criteria. But other sites may include links to any website. For example, read Cancer.Net's linking policy.

What does your doctor say? Discuss the information you find on the Internet with your doctor or another member of your health care team. They can help you evaluate the information and understand if it applies to you.

Other suggestions for finding reliable information

  • Ask your health care team to suggest websites.

  • Bookmark the websites you like and check back regularly for new information. Consider signing up for the website’s newsletter or RSS feed. Or follow trusted organizations on social media outlets to get new information.

  • Trust your judgment if something you read does not seem right or seems too good to be true.

More Information

Medical News: 8 Ways to Separate Fact from Fiction

Don't Be Fooled: How to Protect Yourself from Cancer Treatment Fraud

Questions to Ask the Doctor

Understanding Cancer Research Study Design and How to Evaluate Results

Additional Resources

U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Beware of Online Cancer Fraud

Federal Trade Commission: Cancer Treatment Scams

Quackwatch