For many cancer patients, the Internet serves as a vital tool used to stay in touch with loved ones during treatment, find comfort and advice from other patients and caregivers, or even research clinical trials. But using the Web to learn more about a cancer diagnosis or potential treatments requires a healthy dose of caution. For all of its many benefits, the Internet used unwisely can lead to scams and misinformation, as well.
So what’s the best way to separate fact from fiction on the Web? We asked Sarah Singer, MSW, LICSW, director of Dana-Farber’s Eleanor and Maxwell Blum Patient and Family Resource Center, for some tips to consider when researching cancer information online.
- Rely on reputable websites, such as those run by U.S. government agencies or leading nonprofit health care organizations. The resource experts in Dana-Farber’s Blum Center regularly compile and review a comprehensive list of recommended cancer resources on the Web. The National Cancer Institute also offers helpful tips for vetting online cancer information.
- Check the dates. Cancer research and recommendations can evolve rapidly, so make sure the page you’re viewing is up to date. As a general rule of thumb, aim for information that has been published or reviewed in the past two years. If it’s older, try to compare it to a source published more recently.
- Use your common sense. Be wary of claims that sound too good to be true. When in doubt about a particular product or information source, talk with your health care team. The American Cancer Society regularly updates a list of common cancer myths and rumors and the Federal Trade Commission offers helpful advice for avoiding cancer treatment scams.
- Always rely on your health care team first. Information that you find on the Internet should never take the place of the advice and guidance you get from your doctors and nurses. Even trusted websites can offer information that may not apply to your particular health situation, so it’s vital to talk with your health care team whenever you have a health concern or are considering a new treatment approach.
As you begin your search for cancer information online, Dana-Farber’s online Health Library and Nutrition pages can be good places to start. But you can also call or stop at the Blum Center, which is staffed by experienced health care professionals and volunteers.