Evaluating Cancer Treatment Options on the Internet

October 15, 2012
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Listen to this podcast to learn how to evaluate your cancer treatment options on the internet.


You’re listening to a podcast from Cancer.Net. This cancer information website is produced by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, known as ASCO, the world’s leading professional organization for doctors that care for people with cancer.

Today we’ll discuss how to evaluate the cancer information that you find on the Internet.

The Internet is a useful tool for finding information about cancer and connecting with other patients and caregivers. However, it can be difficult to find reliable information about cancer, such as the causes of cancer, the risk of getting cancer, and the best treatment and recovery options. Because Internet content isn’t regulated, some of the cancer information you find on the Internet might be incorrect.

In this podcast, we’ll cover eight questions to consider that can help you evaluate if cancer information websites are credible.

Question number 1. Who operates the website? The person or organization that runs the website should be identified throughout the site. This way, users know the source and purpose of the information, for example, whether it’s educating people about a disease or selling a product.

Number 2. Who is responsible for the website's content? Reliable websites tell you who edits and approves the content, such as an editorial board, and how to contact the organization that operates the website. For example, the “About Us” section on Cancer.Net includes a list of its more than 150 editorial board members. It also carries the seal of approval from the Health on the Net Foundation, an organization that’s established a code of conduct for health and medical websites.

Number 3. Who funds the website? A website's financial backing may affect how information is presented. This is called bias. High-quality websites make it easy to tell the difference between advertisements and medical information. Avoid websites that try to promote a specific medication or treatment over another.

Question number 4. How does the website maintain your privacy? If the website requires you to give confidential information, such as your name, e-mail address, or diagnosis, then there should be a separate security or privacy policy statement that tells you how this information will be used.

Number 5. Where do they get their information? Reliable cancer information is based on scientific evidence and not personal feelings or experiences. When learning about treatment options, look for links or references to research studies. If information is based on an opinion, it should be clearly labeled. Be cautious about scientific-sounding material that doesn’t list the medical research that supports it.

Number 6. How current is the information on the website? Cancer information changes quickly as researchers learn more about the various cancer types and develop new treatments. Therefore, information that is several years old may no longer be accurate. Look for a date at the beginning or end of an article, which will tell you when the article was last posted or reviewed.

Number 7. Does the website have a linking policy? Links may take you to other websites on the Internet. Be aware that the new website may not have the same standards as the one you left. Some sites have a policy of only linking to websites that meet specific criteria, while other sites may include links to any website.

And, question number 8. What does your doctor say? Talk about information you find on the Internet with your doctor or health care provider. Your doctor can help you evaluate the information and determine whether it applies to you. You can also ask your doctor to suggest reliable websites to learn about cancer.

Considering these questions will help you to better evaluate the accuracy of cancer information on the Internet. Also be sure to trust your judgment if something you read does not seem right or seems too good to be true. Once you’ve found trusted websites you like, bookmark the site, sign up for the site’s newsletter or RSS feeds, or follow the site on Twitter or Facebook so you can stay up-to-date on any new information.

For more on finding and understanding cancer information, visit www.cancer.net. Cancer.Net is supported by the Conquer Cancer Foundation, which is working to create a world free from the fear of cancer by funding breakthrough research, sharing knowledge with physicians and patients worldwide, and supporting initiatives to ensure that all people have access to high-quality cancer care. Thank you for listening to this Cancer.Net podcast.