Using the Internet to Learn About Cancer

Author: Christina Bach, MBE, LCSW, OSW-C, FAOSW
Last Reviewed: June 29, 2022

The Internet has become a go-to for answers to our most burning questions. It is so easy to pull out a phone or laptop, go to your favorite search engine, type in a few words, and get an answer within seconds. Is this answer a good one? It can be hard to tell a reliable website from one with questionable information. If you are looking for reliable medical information, it is even more important to know the information is up to date and based on scientific research, whenever possible. This is your health and you don’t want information from just anybody.

There are many reliable sites out there for medical information, but you need to know where to start. Some tips to get you started:

  • Ask your healthcare providers for websites they recommend. Most providers understand that people want to search for information and can give you a few starting points.
  • Ask some questions about any website you visit – you can learn a lot by reading the “About Us” page.
    • Does a company sponsor the site? Do they have influence over the content?
    • Is it run by an individual? Does this person provide information limited to their own experience?
    • What is the mission of the site?
  • You may be able to learn something from the URL or address of the website.
    • On websites run by the United States government, the web address will end in .gov
    • A non-profit organization’s web address typically ends in .org
    • A University medical center/ or school’s website URL will typically end in .edu.
  • Who is writing the information? Is it a patient? A medical writer? Is there no author at all? Is it a provider who is an expert on the topic you are searching for?
    • You can always search the author’s name for their credentials.
    • A healthcare provider may be able to give you information based on years of experience, versus a single patient’s story.
  • When was the information written?
    • Research is constantly being done in the world of medicine and you want to make sure that the information you have received is current and up-to-date. Generally, you don’t want to read anything that is more than a few years old.
  • Is the site selling something? Claim to have a cure for your cancer? Use caution and always talk with your healthcare provider before you buy or try anything

These are not “rules” per se. These are things to think about when you look at the information on the web. An individual patient’s story can provide inspiration and advice, but maybe it isn’t the best place to start when learning about a new diagnosis. Above all, talk with your healthcare team about things you find online before trying them out yourself.

Check out the Resources for More Information: General Cancer Sites to get you started.

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