Cancer information and other health information, whether in print or online, must come from a reliable and credible source. Government agencies, hospitals, universities, and medical journals and books that provide factual information are sources you can trust. Unfortunately, it has become very common to find misinformation online and in print. Too often, some websites and print media provide misleading or incorrect information. If a source makes statements that are too good to be true, remember they usually are.
There are many websites, books, and magazines that provide cancer and other health information to the public, but not all are trustworthy. Use the resources provided below to protect yourself when reviewing sources of health information.
How to trust the websites you visit
Online sources for cancer and other health information should make it easy for people to find out who is responsible for posting the information. They should clearly indicate the original source of the information, as well as the medical qualifications of those preparing or reviewing the posted material.
Use the following questions to determine the credibility of health information published online.
- Who manages this information?
The person or group who posted health information online should be easy to find somewhere on the page.
- What are the letters at the end of the web address?
Government websites end in “.gov” and those ending in “.edu” are operated by a university or other educational institution. These are sources you can generally trust. If you see “.org” or “.com” at the end of a web address, it might also be a trusted site. However, check it carefully to make sure.
- Who pays for the project and what is its goal?
You should be able to find this information in the “About Us” section. Are they selling something or are they promoting a “cure”? If so, be very careful!
- What is the original source of the information they published?
If the information was originally published in a research journal or book, they should indicate which one (s) so you can find them.
- How is information reviewed before it is published?
Most health information publications ask someone with medical or research degrees (for example, someone who has earned a MD, DO, or PhD) to review the information before it is published. , to make sure they are correct.
- How topical is the information?
Online health information sources should tell you when the information was last posted or revised.
- If they ask for personal information, how will they use that information and how will they protect your privacy?
Its very important. Do not share personal information until you understand the policies under which it will be used and are comfortable with any risk involved in sharing your information online.
How to Use Social Media and Email Safely
It is common to go to social media sites to find information about cancer. These sites (such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter) can be useful when they are up to date and trustworthy. They are also great ways for people to connect with others who have health issues and similar issues. Related mobile apps are often used to track health activities, such as diet and exercise. Some people use them to record medication schedules or doctor visits. Using these methods can be very helpful. However, not all of them are reliable or secure.
It is important to only follow social media from reliable sources. When using social media, ask the same questions you would ask on a website. Many trusted organizations have social media accounts that link to their websites. For example, the National Cancer Institute has a official Facebook page, YouTube page and numerous Twitter accounts of its offices and services.
Always be careful when using your email or text messages. Don’t click a link in a message unless you know or trust the sender. And never open an attachment unless it’s from a trusted source. This is true whether you are on your phone or your computer.
Read other people’s stories about their cancer
When it comes to personal social media accounts, it’s common for users to post their cancer experiences. This may include:
- how they feel physically
- treatments they undergo
- complementary therapies they use, such as a type of diet or supplements
- what feelings they have
But remember, everyone is different. Even someone with the same type of cancer has a different body and medical history than you do. And never follow any treatment or medication recommendations from anyone other than your doctor. You don’t know where or how the user got their information. You also don’t know if the information is up to date or what the user’s knowledge of cancer is.
For more details and information on assessing online resources, including websites, social media, mobile apps, and fake news sites, see the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health webpage. NIH, Find and evaluate online resources.
A number of books have been written on cancer, cancer treatment, and complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Some books have content you can trust, some don’t.
It is important to know that information is constantly changing and new research results are published every day. Realize that if a book is written by one person, you may only get that person’s point of view.
If you go to the library, ask staff for suggestions. Or if you live near a college or university, a medical library may be available. Local bookstores may also have employees who can help you. If you find a book online, take a very careful look at the author’s credentials, background, and expertise. The questions you can ask yourself are:
- Is the author an expert on the subject?
- Do you know anyone else who has read the book?
- Has the book been reviewed by other experts?
- Has it been published within the past 5 years?
- Does the book offer different points of view or does it seem to have an opinion?
- Has the author studied the subject in its entirety?
- Are the references listed on the back?
Read magazine articles about cancer
If you want to search for cancer articles that you can trust, search medical journal databases online or ask your librarian for advice. He or she can help you search for medical journals, books, and other cancer research conducted by experts.
Articles in popular magazines are usually not written by experts. Rather, the authors speak with experts, gather information, and then write the article. If allegations are made in a magazine, remember:
- Authors may not have much knowledge in this area.
- They may not say where they found their information.
- The articles have probably not been reviewed by experts.
- The publisher may have links with advertisers or other organizations. Therefore, the article may be one-sided in the information or views it presents.
When reading these articles, you can use the same process that the author of the magazine used:
- talk with experts
- ask a lot of questions
- decide if the information is right for you
Where to get more help
Cancer Treatment Scams
A Federal Trade Commission (FTC) page that advises people to ask their health care provider for products that claim to cure or treat cancer, and offers tips for spotting treatment-related scams.
How to spot health fraud
A Food and Drug Administration (FDA) page that describes the ins and outs of healthcare fraud with tips on how to avoid it.
Internet Cancer Information Assessment
Developed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), Cancer.Net provides information, including common misconceptions about cancer and tips for assessing the credibility of cancer information online.
Is it legitimate? Access valid and reliable health information
A lesson plan created by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) designed to help students in Grades 9-12 learn to access valid and reliable health information.