Cancer Online: Tips for Researching Cancer on the Web

canceronline.jpgEvery month, some 40 million adults use the Internet to search for health information. Unfortunately, do-it-yourself research does not always make a more informed patient. There are several reasons why. First, the wealth of medical information available on the Web varies in quality and accuracy. In addition it can be difficult to whittle down the endless data into a reasonable quantity of relevant information. Also, the Internet is an unregulated medium, with nothing to stop quack Web sites from posting misinformation masked in scientific jargon.

How and Where to Find Reliable Information

Your best strategy is to use sites sponsored by the government, medical schools, and well-respected medical and research institutions.
 

To find helpful medical Web sites, you can start by using a health directory—a type of search engine that organizes your search results into logical categories that you can quickly browse. Federal health directories are excellent resources, as they have already filtered the information. Check out Healthfinder www.healthfinder.gov), sponsored by the Department of Health and Human Services. It generates a list of trustworthy clearinghouses, databases, government and nongovernment publications, and Web support groups. For intensive research, visit the Web site of the National Institutes of Health (www.nih.gov), which provides free access to Medline, a database of over nine million journal articles. It also has a link to the National Cancer Institute’s site (www.cancer.gov or www.nci.nih.gov), which gives thorough cancer-specific information.

 
Respected nonprofit organizations, such as the American Cancer Society www.cancer.org), can also be good sources of information. And some academic centers that use state-of-the-art technologies and treatments have specialized Web sites; for example, the University of Pennsylvania Cancer Center’s Oncolink www.oncolink.upenn.edu).
 

Other Surfing Rules

Besides knowing how and where to find accurate information, there are other things to watch for when surfing the Web:

  • Avoid sites that ask for a lot of personal information. If the site requires you to register in order to use it, carefully read its privacy policy.
  • Check the dates of the information you’re reading. Medical information, especially when it comes to cancer research findings, changes quickly, and you want to be sure the information provided in an article is up-to-date.
  • Check to see who sponsors the Web site. The better sites separate sponsorships, advertisements, and online stores from their medical information resources.
  • For information on clinical trials, including how to find them, deciding whether to participate in them, and understanding your rights, go to the National Cancer Institute’s comprehensive clinical trials information center at http://cancertrials.nci.nih.gov. Another good clinical trial listing service is Centerwatch (www.centerwatch.com).
  • When you visit your doctor, don’t take piles of research papers with you and expect him or her to review them and examine you at the same time. Instead, use what you have learned from the Internet to help you have a more focused discussion on treatment options.

This information is not intended to replace medical advice obtained directly from a physician.