Checklist of claims may signal trouble on internet cancer-treatment sites

March 01, 2003

Asking a few simple questions can help consumers gauge the reliability of Internet information about complementary and alternative cancer treatments, new findings suggest.

"Patients with cancer and other life-threatening conditions often turn to complementary/alternative medicine for a variety of reasons, and a major source of their information is the Internet," write Scott C. Matthews, M.D., and colleagues in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego.

However, the researchers caution, "There is a staggering amount of medical misinformation on the Internet."

The findings appear in the published in the March-April issue of the journal Psychosomatics.

The researchers reviewed 194 Internet sites discussing three complementary/alternative medicine treatments: floressence, an herbal product widely used by cancer patients; amalaki, an herb often used as part of an Ayurvedic cancer-treatment approach; and selenium, a nonherbal treatment often used in complementary cancer treatment.

In their review of the Internet sites, the researchers asked whether the treatments were for sale online, whether the sites provided "patient testimonials," if the treatment was touted as a "cancer cure" and if the treatment claimed to have "no side effects.

A "yes" answer to any of the questions raised a "red flag" for the researchers, suggesting that the Internet site's scientific accuracy was questionable.

The researchers found that more than 90 percent of sites discussing floressence and amalaki -- neither of which have undergone rigorous scientific study -- raised at least one red flag. In contrast, only 23 percent of the sites discussing selenium -- a treatment that has some scientific merit -- raised at least one red flag.

The floressence and amalaki sites with multiple red flags offered large amounts of vague, inaccurate and anecdotal information. Those with no red flags pointed readers to accurate, scientifically based information published in peer-reviewed journals or provided by organizations such as the National Cancer Institute.

Most of the selenium Internet sites, including those with red flags, gave at least some accurate information about selenium use and cancer treatment -- possibly because a large body of research about selenium treatment has been published in scientific journals.

"When patients search the Internet for information on a topic for which there is little objective clinical research, use of these red flag questions may help identify questionable sites," Dr. Matthews and colleagues note. "Internet sites with one or more red flags should be avoided. However, presence of no red flags for any particular site does not ensure scientific accuracy."
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Health Behavior News Service: 202-387-2829 or Interviews: Contact Dr. Scott Matthews at 858-642-1242 or Psychosomatics: Contact Tom Wise, M.D., at 703-698-3626.


Center for Advancing Health

Related Cancer Articles from Brightsurf:

New blood cancer treatment works by selectively interfering with cancer cell signalling
University of Alberta scientists have identified the mechanism of action behind a new type of precision cancer drug for blood cancers that is set for human trials, according to research published in Nature Communications.

UCI researchers uncover cancer cell vulnerabilities; may lead to better cancer therapies
A new University of California, Irvine-led study reveals a protein responsible for genetic changes resulting in a variety of cancers, may also be the key to more effective, targeted cancer therapy.

Breast cancer treatment costs highest among young women with metastic cancer
In a fight for their lives, young women, age 18-44, spend double the amount of older women to survive metastatic breast cancer, according to a large statewide study by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Cancer mortality continues steady decline, driven by progress against lung cancer
The cancer death rate declined by 29% from 1991 to 2017, including a 2.2% drop from 2016 to 2017, the largest single-year drop in cancer mortality ever reported.

Stress in cervical cancer patients associated with higher risk of cancer-specific mortality
Psychological stress was associated with a higher risk of cancer-specific mortality in women diagnosed with cervical cancer.

Cancer-sniffing dogs 97% accurate in identifying lung cancer, according to study in JAOA
The next step will be to further fractionate the samples based on chemical and physical properties, presenting them back to the dogs until the specific biomarkers for each cancer are identified.

Moffitt Cancer Center researchers identify one way T cell function may fail in cancer
Moffitt Cancer Center researchers have discovered a mechanism by which one type of immune cell, CD8+ T cells, can become dysfunctional, impeding its ability to seek and kill cancer cells.

More cancer survivors, fewer cancer specialists point to challenge in meeting care needs
An aging population, a growing number of cancer survivors, and a projected shortage of cancer care providers will result in a challenge in delivering the care for cancer survivors in the United States if systemic changes are not made.

New cancer vaccine platform a potential tool for efficacious targeted cancer therapy
Researchers at the University of Helsinki have discovered a solution in the form of a cancer vaccine platform for improving the efficacy of oncolytic viruses used in cancer treatment.

American Cancer Society outlines blueprint for cancer control in the 21st century
The American Cancer Society is outlining its vision for cancer control in the decades ahead in a series of articles that forms the basis of a national cancer control plan.

Read More: Cancer News and Cancer Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to