Dr Pamela Prince Pyle

How to Evaluate your Sources for Cancer Information

It’s normal. You hear the devastating word, CANCER, and as soon as you have recovered enough from the shock, you want to find answers. I have this cancer and it means this and oh my gosh, I have cancer!!! Life with cancer can feel as if you need to be an immediate expert on everything. You don’t.

I’ve shared before about the dangers of Dr. Google, and it is especially so with cancer. When I searched the word, cancer, there was 6,250,000,000 results. That’s over six billion results!

This can be overwhelming to even imagine all the sources for cancer information and how do you evaluate what is true?

Where to start

Let’s start with where you should begin. The American Cancer Society website, www.cancer.org, has information for every type of cancer, symptoms of cancer, and even screening for cancer. The website is easy to navigate and when you are seeking information about your cancer, you need easy.

However, how do you evaluate the credibility of other sources? In the United States, credible information for cancer care will generally be sourced from government organizations, university settings, or public health websites. These are represented with top level domain sites of .gov, .edu, or .org, respectively.

If it is a website, first determine if there is a commercial bias. A website that may have content about cancer and yet focuses on one therapy, the one they sell, is a red flag. It helps to determine the motivation or purpose behind the website. Is it marketing or educational? Is it anecdotal or scientific information? Is it consistent with your clinical care or at odds with it?

Frequently, you can identify the purpose or mission of a website by reading either About Us, or About this Site. A site lacking this information would be of concern.

In general, the US Federal Trade Commission suggests proceeding with caution if any of the following statements are made:

  • Claims of secret ingredient, scientific breakthrough, miraculous cure, or ancient remedy
  • Claims of a money-back guarantee
  • Anecdotal stories of patient success without scientific research
  • One product for multiple issues

Ask Your Clinician

As you consider each of these areas of critical evaluation, you may also ask your clinician for their opinion on the source. I would also like to note that there is significant information about alternative therapies, complementary therapies, holistic therapies, and integrative therapies.  you want to have every weapon available. However, I don’t want you to shoot yourself in the foot. Even “natural” remedies can be harmful and counterproductive to your standard of care therapies.

The National Cancer Institute has an office that specifically addresses complementary and alternative medicine in the setting of cancer and can be found at  www.cam.cancer.gov. As you review the website, utilize your Evaluating your Source skills that you have just learned. It will become a technique that can be utilized for your cancer care and any other health condition in which you turn to the internet for answers.

Finally, I would like to make one other recommendation. If your condition has been progressive despite your current therapeutic regimen, I recommend looking at the website, www.clinicaltrials.gov. With a few clicks, you can identify clinical trials that are taking place around the world related to your specific circumstance. You may find that you are a candidate for a clinical trial in progress.

The internet has brought a world of knowledge into our homes and that is good. However, my desire for you is that you gain wisdom, rather than just knowledge. With wisdom you become your best health advocate.

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