How to Identify Cancer Misinformation Online

Last Updated: February 2, 2023

When reading cancer information online, it may be difficult to tell whether that information is accurate and reliable. Some misinformation, which is false or inaccurate information, may target people with cancer, which could lead to a delay or disruption in treatment. In this video, Dr. Eleonora Teplinsky discusses what people with cancer should know about identifying cancer misinformation online, including red flags to look out for and how to tell if information is trustworthy.

View Dr. Teplinsky’s disclosures.

More Information 

Evaluating Cancer Information on the Internet

How to Tell If Cancer Information on Social Media Is “Fake News”

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How to Identify Cancer Misinformation Online

Voiceover: After receiving a cancer diagnosis, many people turn to the internet to learn more about their cancer. The internet can be a good source of health information, but there is a lot of misinformation online as well.

Eleonora Teplinsky, MD; Medical Oncologist; Member, American Society of Clinical Oncology: Medical misinformation is information that is false, inaccurate, or misleading. Misinformation can be harmful to patients. If they are seeing information online that is not accurate, that may impact their choice to take a medication or not, that may impact their plan for their cancer treatment, and ultimately can result in negative outcomes.

Voiceover: Trying to identify which information online is reliable can be overwhelming. You should always look closely at the source of the information. If it hasn't been vetted by a medical professional, it may not be trustworthy.

Dr. Teplinsky: It can be really hard to identify cancer misinformation online. There is so much out there, and weeding through it, figuring out what's accurate, what's not accurate, what applies to you, what doesn't apply to you, is challenging.

Use resources that provide evidence based accurate information

Dr. Teplinsky: The first step is going to resources that are providing evidence-based accurate information. For example, Cancer.Net is a great patient-centered website that shares accurate information.

Check to see if the source of the information has medical credentials

Dr. Teplinsky: The second step is looking at someone's credentials on social media. Are they a physician, are they a nurse, a nurse practitioner, are they a cancer dietitian, are they a social worker, and the list goes on. But understanding where you're getting that information from and who is providing that information can be really helpful. It is really important for patients to be aware of certain red flags that they can look for to help them figure out whether information is credible or not.

Red flag: The source claims their product or service can “cure” cancer.

Dr. Teplinsky: One of the red flags is going to be a term that says "cancer can be cured" with this treatment or "if you do this, your cancer will go away completely."

Red flag: The information has no credentials.

Dr. Teplinsky: A second red flag is going to be information that is not presented with credentials. What I mean by that is if a person on social media defines themselves as a cancer expert, but does not back that up with credentials, that is always a red flag to watch out for. The way to identify credible and reliable information again, is to know who is providing it and to really take a look at how that information is being presented. What I mean by that is if you see a fact or a claim on social media, is it linked to a study, is it linked to research, can you follow the source back? I think it's also important to look at, if that information is provided by a company, what the funding source is. Because a lot of times there is gain to be had from some information that we see online.

Voiceover: There are many online forums where patients post about their own cancer journeys, and those can provide a source of comfort and community for people with cancer. However, it's important to remember that their experiences may not be the same as yours.

Dr. Teplinsky: We know that patients are online, telling their stories, sharing their experiences, their journeys, and that is really important. I think that seeing what someone else went through, what side effects they had, how they handled their treatment, is such powerful information. But I caution patients to understand that  one person's experience may not be what happens to you. And I think it's important to gather all that data, to understand what other patients are experiencing, so that you know what may happen, but understanding that does not always apply to your experience.

Voiceover: It is important not to make any medical decisions based solely on what you read online. Your cancer care team can help you sort through the information and answer any questions you have about what you see online.

Dr. Teplinsky: I always urge patients to take whatever information they find online and talk to their health care team about it. And that is probably one of the best ways to weed out that information.

[Closing and Credits]

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