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March 13, 2019

Cancer information on the internet? Stick to reliable sources

Many online resources are credible, but here's how to spot those which are misleading, incorrect, and even dangerous

Opinion Cancer
Cancer internet information reliability Source/Image licensed by Ingram Image


One of the first things many people do when they or a loved one are diagnosed with cancer is search for information online. The internet can be a wonderful tool for finding information on cancer, including treatment options, prevention and screening methods, and connecting with other patients and advocates.

But this important information is unfortunately complemented by a rather robust amount of cancer-focused content that is misleading, incorrect, and even dangerous.

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The number of websites and social media platforms offering health information is growing exponentially, thus diluting credible information. The sheer amount of content can be overwhelming and finding a reputable source can be difficult especially following a cancer diagnosis, a time when one is likely shocked or scared.

Some of the most reliable sources of information include government agencies such as the National Cancer Institute (NCI), leading research hospitals and NCI-designated cancer centers like the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center – Jefferson Health (SKCC), and health organizations such as the American Cancer Society and the American Society of Clinical Oncology. These types of organizations share up-to-date, scientifically credible information that is reviewed by medical experts. You can find information about different cancer types, treatment options, screening programs, cancer research, clinical trials and support groups from these types of organizations.


Karen E. Knudsen, Ph.D., is the enterprise director of the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center – Jefferson Health.

To evaluate whether the information provided on a website is reliable, check to see who operates and funds the website. For example, if a company promoting a product sponsors a website, it may not be offering unbiased information. Ask yourself where the website is getting information from and look for the original sources. The information should come from other reputable sources, such as peer-reviewed scientific journals. Remember that personal experiences should not be taken as fact.

Be very wary of anyone trying to sell you something. There are companies and individuals taking advantage of people by selling products claiming to treat cancer that are unproven and often unsafe, sometimes advertised as ”natural" treatments and claiming to have no side effects. Even dietary supplements or herbal remedies can be dangerous for patients by negatively interacting with prescribed medications and treatments.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, fraudulent cancer products use a particular vocabulary and consumers should recognize certain phrases as red flags, including: treats all forms of cancer; miraculously kills cancer cells and tumors; shrinks malignant tumors; selectively kills cancer cells; more effective than chemotherapy; attacks cancer cells, leaving healthy cells intact; and cures cancer.

Remember that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

One of the most important things to remember is not to rely on any resources found online when it comes to your health. Nothing can take the place of medical advice from a licensed provider, and even reliable information can be confusing. In addition, every cancer and every patient is different, requiring expert advice that no website can offer. Always talk to a health care provider who will be able to answer any questions and discuss personalized options as it relates to your unique situation.

Karen E. Knudsen, Ph.D., enterprise director at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center – Jefferson Health, oversees cancer care and cancer research at all SKCC sites in the Greater Philadelphia region. She writes occasionally on topics related to cancer.

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