The Internet for Oncologists: Hunting for Genes on the World Wide Web

Tom Dilling
University of Pennsylvania Cancer Center
Last Modified: May 18, 1996


photo of Susan Hubbard (NCI) CHAIR: Mark Boguski, MD PhD
National Center for Biotechnology Information

Susan Hubbard, RN
National Cancer Institute, International Cancer Information Center

L. Michael Glode, MD
University of Colorado Sciences Center

Photo: Susan Hubbard, RN


Growth of the Internet has exploded in the past several years and the effect has been felt by both patients and their physicians. The number of servers disseminating online information has grown logarithmically and, concomitant with this growth, there has been a surge in use of home computers.

The amount of material available to cancer researchers has exploded. Several sources for this information were mentioned:

  • The National Cancer Institute maintains a long list of electronic documents which are peer-reviewed and continually updated. These Physicians Data Query (PDQ) Statements cover a large number of diseases as well as providing information about new drug therapies, clinical trials, and supportive care information.

  • Genetic research information is now coming online. At present, more than 700,000 gene sequences from 15,000 species can be searched online, via a World Wide Web search form. This represents the material of approximately 5 complete series of Encyclopedia Brittanicas, with the quantity of the content doubling every twelve months.

  • While there is a large amount of useful information available on the World Wide Web, the panelists did cite the conern about the reliability of information found online. Because the possibility of publishing online is now open to all, the quality of the material found on the Internet can vary. Some suggestions from the panelists were to look for sites which are peer-reviewed, with editorial oversight. Similarly, it is important to analyze the data found in terms of quality assurance -- is the material presented up-to-date?

  • Realizing that the future of rapid information dissemination lies in technologies such as the World Wide Web, ASCO has begun an effort to create a web page. A demo version is available for viewing at the conference, with the final public unveiling scheduled for July. It is ASCO's goal to provide assistance to patient advocacy groups by providing them an Internet forum for disseminating information. Through this medium, then, doctors will be able to interact more directly with these patient advocacy groups by browsing their content.

    ASCO also envisions a future in which information kiosks sit in doctors' offices. These computer terminals would access databases of information regarding experiemental protocols in progress around the world. By filling out answers to some questions about themselves, patients will be able to research available experimental protocols available at a hospital near them. Such publicity regarding study protocols would enable researchers to enroll patients in a faster, more efficient manner, and in greater numbers than possible at present.

    Obviously, there are still some technical issues to confront, particularly in terms of security of data transmission across the Internet. For at all times it must be guaranteed that patient information cannot be read by those not intended to see it. The future possibilities, though, for both physician and patient, are exciting.

From the National Cancer Institute