Accessing cancer information online

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The internet is a useful resource to find information on cancer and treatments, but there is also a lot of misinformation. Find out tips to help you know where to go for reliable info and to help you think critically.

Key points

  • Anyone can create content on the internet, which makes it difficult to figure out what is true and what is not when looking at information online.
  • The acronym SCREEN can help you choose which information to trust. It stands for Source; Conflict of interest or bias; editorial Review process; Evidence-based; Extreme claims; and Not related.
  • If you are not sure about something you've read online, it is best to ask your health-care team for more information.

The internet is the top source of information for teenagers. You can get lots of information about cancer on the internet. There are websites, discussion forums, blogs, social networks, and many other places that internet users can talk about and learn about cancer. This is one of the great things about the internet: anyone and everyone can contribute to the information stored on the web. But this situation can also make it difficult to figure out what’s true or helpful and what isn’t.

So how can you tell what information is good information? If you’re not sure, you’re not alone! It turns out many people have difficulty figuring out the quality of information on the internet. Many of us trust information because the website itself looks professional, but this shouldn't be the only reason to trust a website. You don’t need to be a cancer expert to make a website about cancer!

Sorting out which information to trust is a skill that takes practice. We’ve put together some tips to help you choose which information you should trust and which information you should question.

Tip 1: Follow the SCREEN test for websites.

When you get to a website ask these questions:

S = SourceWho wrote the information or hosts the website? Check out their credentials. One way to do this, though it’s not 100% accurate, is by looking at the domain. Is the site from the government (.gov), educational (.edu), or from a non-profit organization (.org)? Is the site up to date? What is the last date it was updated?
C = Conflict of interest or biasIs the site selling or promoting a product or service? If it is, the person or group behind the site might have bias or only show one side of the story.
R = editorial Review processDid someone such as an editor or a group of experts read this information and then publish or comment on it? Is there an editorial process or seal of approval? Having a review adds credibility.
E = Evidence-basedAre claims based on scientific research and is there documentation? In other words, can the person or group prove them? If they make a claim, they should show you evidence to back it up.
E = Extreme claimsDoes the site claim 'miracles', 'amazing results' or 'earthshaking breakthroughs'? Any claim that a treatment works for dozens of different problems or leads to 99% improvement is likely to be misleading and driven by a desire to make money.
N = Not relatedIs the information unrelated to or different from what you were told by your health-care provider? If so, you should do more research.

Tip 2: Use the DISCERN tool.

This tool was developed in the UK to help people determine the quality of health information on the internet.

Tip 3: Check with someone whom you know is an expert!

If you find information or a service on the web, show it to someone on your health-care team. Give them the printed information or the web address and see what they think. You can also ask for sites or services that they recommend. A social worker is often a good resource.

Think before you post!

Some websites will ask you for personal information or will invite you to post your thoughts or ideas. Before entering your info, consider these points.

  • You can’t always control who sees the information you put on the internet.
  • What goes up on the internet usually stays on the internet. It’s almost impossible to make sure that content is completely deleted.
  • More schools, employers and insurance companies are using the internet to find out about people.

The internet is an amazing tool and source of information. Use it, but use it intelligently and safely!​​

Last updated: September 3rd 2019