How to Evaluate Cancer Information Found Online


When evaluating cancer-related information online, the National Cancer Institute offers advice.

When evaluating cancer-related information online, the National Cancer Institute advises patients to consider the:

> Source. Reputable websites tell visitors, often on an “About Us” page, who’s running the show. Are they health professionals? What are their credentials?

Red flags: No contact information or physical address

> Funding. The funding source should be clearly stated or apparent. The endings on Web addresses—.com (commercial), .org (organization), .edu (education), .gov (government)—are generally clues to the site’s funding source, target audience and motives.

Red flag: Funding source is obscure or unverifiable

> Origin of content. Is content based on research findings published in reputable medical journals? Are there citations in the text that enable visitors to verify those findings? Nonprofessional opinions and advice, individual case histories and testimonials (some of which may not be genuine) are poor substitutes for rigorous science.

Red flag: Information collected from unidentified sources

> Objectivity. Information should be unbiased, unless otherwise labeled, and complete. Reliable resources acknowledge that experts sometimes disagree about cancer causes and treatments.

Red flags: Capital letters, exclamation points, descriptions such as “miracle cure,” “breakthrough,” “secret ingredient” and “natural” (which doesn’t necessarily mean safe)

> Currency of information. Content must be routinely updated, as cancer research moves quickly. What was considered sound medical knowledge just a few years ago may not be valid today.

Red flags: Undated content, broken links

> Quality safeguards. At the best websites, an editorial board of top professionals with relevant expertise reviews the content.

> Privacy protections. A visitor’s health information should remain confidential. Credible websites explain what they will and will not do with such information, if they ask for it. Many commercial sites sell it to other companies.

[Learning About Cancer Online]

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