Listen to the Cancer.Net Podcast: Evaluating Cancer Treatment Options on the Internet, adapted from this content.
The Internet is a useful tool for people with cancer. It can help you:
Find cancer information
Connect with other patients and caregivers
But, sometimes, it is hard to know if the information is reliable. Anyone can put content on the Internet, even without expertise in cancer.
This is why is it is important to use good judgment when searching online. Be careful with information you find on:
Online bulletin boards
These resources can provide helpful support. But they can also include untrue or out-of-date information. Often, information shared on these sites does not receive regular reviews or updates.
As you search for cancer information online, be critical about the sources you find. And discuss the information with your health care team.
Questions to ask about online information
Ask yourself the following questions as you visit websites with cancer information:
Who runs the website? The “About Us” section will often tell you who runs the website. It may be a person or an organization. Use this knowledge to judge the content you find on the website. If you cannot identify the source and purpose of the information, look elsewhere.
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, Cancer.Net's About Us section provides a link to the list of Editorial Board members. The Contact Us link provides phone numbers and email addresses. It also has a seal of approval from the Health on the Net (HON) Foundation. The HON Foundation has a set of guidelines for health and medical websites.
Who funds the website? Some websites present information as scientific fact while promoting a product for profit. This is called “bias.”
High-quality websites make it easy to distinguish 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:
Your email address
Your mailing address
Where do they get their information? Reliable cancer information is based on scientific fact. It is not based on personal feelings or experiences.
Look for links or references to supporting research studies. If information is 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. Information that is several years old may be outdated. Look for a date at the beginning or end of an article. This tells you when it was published or last reviewed.
Does the website have a linking policy? Links may take you to other websites. And the new websites may not have the same standards as the one you left. However, some sites only link to websites that meet specific criteria. For example, read Cancer.Net's linking policy.
What does your doctor say? Discuss information found on the Internet with your health care team. They can help you evaluate if the information is accurate and applies to you.
Other ways to find reliable information
Consider these recommendations:
Ask your health care team to suggest websites.
Bookmark websites that you trust and 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 to get new information. For example, you can find Cancer.Net on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
Trust your judgment. If something you read seems unreliable, look elsewhere.