If you or a loved one has just been diagnosed with cancer, your first instinct may be to pull up your web browser and type “cancer” into a search engine. I just did this with Google, and I received over 683 million results. The first result is from Wikipedia; the second is from WebMD. The fourth result is about the astrological sign. By the fifth result, thankfully, I’ve made it to the American Cancer Society’s website, which is a reliable source for information about cancer.
While the internet can a great source of information, it also provides a lot of incorrect information. For a newly diagnosed cancer patient, this information can be overwhelming, confusing, and even frightening. If you are searching the internet for cancer information, here are some things to keep in mind:
Make sure the website is reliable.
Reliable websites include:
- Government websites such as the National Cancer Institute (NIC)
- Trusted nonprofits such as American Cancer Society and Leukemia Lymphoma Society
- Organizations run by healthcare professional organizations such as Cancer.Net by the American Society of Clinical Oncology
- Accredited treatment center websites check your own treatment center’s website for patient education resources
If you are not sure if a resource is reliable or not, check to see if the website provides the sources for the information or if the content is reviewed by doctors or a medical or scientific advisory committee.
For more tips on determining a website’s reliability, check out Using Trusted Resources from NCI.
Be careful with statistics.
Even though being informed about your diagnosis and learning as much as you can from reliable sources is a good thing, it may be best to avoid looking at survival statistics all together. Statistics do not reflect or reveal your personal prognosis. Your oncologist, who knows your diagnosis and medical history, can talk to you about your prognosis in more realistic terms.
If you wish to know the statistics of your specific cancer type, the National Cancer Institute’s SEER (Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results) Program provides up-to-date statistics for many cancer types.
If it sounds too good to be true
You’ve probably heard the saying “if it’s sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” This saying applies perfectly to information on the internet. If you’re searching the internet for cancer information, you will probably come across claims of miracle cures. Not only do these miracle cures not work, but they may interfere with your treatment prescribed by your oncologist. Before taking any supplements or medications, changing your diet, or starting any new treatment or exercise program, talk to your healthcare team.
Your healthcare team is the best source of information.
Your diagnosis and medical history is unique. Your prognosis and treatment plan depends on many factors such as:
- Stage of disease
- Genetic factors of tumor
- Medical history and overall health
- Family medical history
Reach out to your healthcare team with any and all questions. Before your next appointment, write down all your questions and take them with you so you don’t forget. Ask your healthcare team who is the best person for you to contact first with questions. For example, should you contact your oncologist directly or a nurse navigator?
As you can see, sorting through 683 million search results is not the best way to find information about a cancer diagnosis.