The internet is a useful tool for people with cancer and their loved ones. It can help you:
Find cancer information that is useful for your care and treatment
Connect with other patients and caregivers, such as through online support groups
However, not all cancer information on the internet is reliable. Anyone can put content online, even without expertise in cancer. It is important to be careful when you consider the information you find on social media, discussion forums, and websites that are not reviewed by medical professionals.
Online resources can provide helpful support, but they can also include false or outdated information. Information on many sites do not receive regular reviews or updates. This is important because new scientific research findings about cancer care and treatment are being released all the time, so it's easy for cancer information to become outdated.
As you search for cancer information online, take the time to explore the details of the resources you find. And, always discuss the information with your health care team.
How do I know if an online source of cancer information is reliable?
When you are searching online for cancer information, ask yourself these questions as you visit different websites:
Who runs the website? The site's "About Us" section will often explain who runs the website. It may be a person or an organization. Use this knowledge to judge the content you find on that website. If you cannot easily find this explanation about a source and purpose of the information, that should raise a red flag.
Who is responsible for writing and updating the website's content? Reliable websites tell you who edits and approves the content. This may be called an editorial board or medical advisory board. They also tell you how to get in touch with the organization that runs the website.
Who funds the website? Some websites present information as scientific fact while actually promoting a product or service for profit. This is called "bias."
High-quality websites make it easy to distinguish between any advertisements and the actual medical information offered. They will tell you who is funding their content. For example, the About Cancer.Net page lists the sources of Cancer.Net's funding. Avoid websites that promote a specific medicine or treatment over another. Consider whether the website stands to profit from your treatment choices.
How does the website maintain your privacy? A website may ask you to give private information, such as your name, email address, mailing address, and/or your diagnosis.
Where does this website get their information? Reliable cancer information is based on scientific fact. It is not based on personal feelings or one person's story.
Look for links or references to supporting research studies. If information presented is a person's opinion or personal experience, the website should clearly explain that.
How current is the information on the website? Cancer information changes quickly. Researchers continually learn more about cancer and treatment options. Look for a date at the beginning or end of an article. This tells you when it was published or last reviewed.
Does this website have a linking policy? Links may take you to other, different websites. The new website you visit from a link may not have the same standards as the one you left. However, some sites only link to websites that meet specific criteria. Many reliable websites will explain those criteria in a linking policy.
What does the original source say? Cancer is a complicated topic, and cancer research can be challenging to understand. Sometimes, even reliable sources, such as news organizations, may misunderstand or oversimplify cancer research findings. For instance, Cancer.Net offers a series about specific cancer myths and information at cancer.net/myths, and offers links to the original sources in each article.
If you are reading about cancer research in a news article, one thing you can do is look up the research yourself directly. Learn more about understanding cancer research and how to evaluate the results.
What does your doctor say? Most importantly, be sure to talk to your doctor and health care team about the information you find online. They can help you evaluate if the information is accurate and if it may apply to you and your care.
Where can I find reliable cancer information online?
First, ask your health care team to suggest websites that they like and are familiar with. They can help direct you to updated and reliable information. Next, start with these organizations, which have information that is regularly updated and vetted by experts.
American Cancer Society. The American Cancer Society is a nonprofit organization with a mission to improve the lives of people with cancer and their families through advocacy, research, and patient support, to ensure everyone has an opportunity to prevent, detect, treat, and survive cancer. Their website offers comprehensive cancer information, including information about cancer risk and prevention, screening, diagnosis, treatment, coping, and survivorship.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is a U.S. government organization dedicated to public health. The CDC website covers many medical conditions and concerns, including providing information about cancer.
Food and Drug Administration. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is the government organization that approves drugs for use in the United States. They also provide information about drugs, vaccines, nutrition, medical devices, and more.
MedlinePlus. The U.S. government's National Library of Medicine runs the health information website MedlinePlus. The National Library of Medicine is the world's largest medical library and is part of the National Institutes of Health. MedlinePlus includes information about specific cancers, drugs and supplements, genetics, medical tests, and provides a comprehensive medical encyclopedia.
National Cancer Institute. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) is the U.S. government's agency for cancer research. Their website provides comprehensive cancer information and information about NCI-supported research.
National Comprehensive Cancer Network. The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) is an alliance of 33 leading cancer centers. This organization provides downloadable books about its cancer care guidelines and other free resources.
To stay up-to-date with the information these websites have about cancer, consider:
Bookmarking the websites that you trust and like.
Checking websites regularly for new information.
Signing up for the website's newsletter.
With any cancer information online, always trust your judgment. If something you read seems unreliable or raises red flags, look elsewhere.