If you or a loved one are faced with a cancer diagnosis, you might find that the amount of cancer information available is overwhelming.
You’re not alone. In fact, one in five Australians put Dr Google in their top three most trusted sources of cancer information.
With Australians now typing the word ‘cancer’ into their search bars up to 325,000 times each year, it’s becoming more important for people to have reliable cancer information available to them online.
Here are four tips to help you find reliable cancer information online:
Tip #1. Check if the source is reliable.
If you find cancer information online that you think may be useful, it’s always best to first check the “about us” section.
On this page, you should be able to find details about who runs the website, the type of organisation and their agenda. If the website doesn’t offer this information, that should be a red flag.
Websites to look out for include commercial organisations promoting or selling products and services – these are more likely to provide biased or unreliable cancer information to increase their sales.
Organisations that are more reliable are government agencies, public health advocacy organisations, universities, and hospitals, because they provide evidence-based cancer information that has been produced and reviewed by subject matter experts.
Tip #2. See if the information has been reviewed by experts.
Information relating to cancer should always be written by experts and go through a stringent review process to ensure that the information is reliable, trustworthy, and accurate.
Reading the wrong information can be dangerous, but the right information can help you understand the diagnosis.
Reliable cancer information should be carefully created and curated, following a proper process of review and amendment.
For example, Cancer Council NSW’s online Cancer Information is based on the content in the Understanding Cancer booklet series, which is always reviewed by a panel of cancer experts. At the bottom of the webpages you can find a list of reviewers and the date the information was last reviewed (see next tip).
Tip #3. Find out when the information was last reviewed.
Timeliness is key to reliable cancer information. This is because cancer treatment, care and figures are always changing.
Some cancer treatments are completely different to what they were only a few years ago, and cancer outcomes have improved significantly. That’s why, when you’re looking for cancer information, it is important to look for dates.
When viewing cancer information online, look for the phrase “last updated”. If the webpage doesn’t mention the last time it was updated, then it shouldn’t be considered up to date.
At Cancer Council NSW, our online cancer information is based on our Understanding Cancer booklets and includes the date of the last review together with a list of reviewers. The review cycle is listed in the front of each booklet and at the bottom of the related webpages, varying between 2 and 3 years.
Our review panel consists of a range of relevant clinicians and consumers, and the editor takes in their feedback and liaises with reviewers to ensure that the information is accurate and up to date. The final draft of the booklet is then signed off by a lead reviewer, who does a final check for accuracy.
Tip #4. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Does this sound familiar? “The government has a cure” or “what your doctor won’t tell you”.
These are the words of the modern “snake oil salesman”, who sells false promises of a cure, remedy or solution.
When it comes to cancer information there aren’t any secrets, and if there have been improvements to safe and effective treatments then major health organisations would be aware of it.
Here are some red flags to look out for:
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If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Check with your doctor before trying any new therapy.
BONUS: Be mindful when using social media
When it comes to getting cancer information from social media, it isn’t always reliable. If you do rely on social media for cancer information, it’s important to follow our tips and only follow social media from trustworthy sources.
Many trusted organisations have social media accounts that link to their websites. For example, we have an official Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter where we share trustworthy cancer information, and always share a link to our website.
It’s worth noting that social media can be a valuable resource for connecting people affected by cancer, because through social networking sites, they can easily share their experiences, concerns, and ask questions.
If you’d like to discuss your experiences with other people and connect with others, please visit Cancer Council’s Online Community.
If you have questions or you’re not sure what information to trust, we’re here to help. But remember that it’s always important to talk to your doctor about your individual situation.