Health information, whether in print or online, should come from a trusted, credible source. Government agencies, hospitals, universities, and medical journals and books that provide evidence-based information are sources you can trust. Too often, other sources can provide misleading or incorrect information. If a source makes claims that are too good to be true, remember—they usually are.
There are many websites, books, and magazines that provide health information to the public, but not all of them are trustworthy. Use the resources provided below to safeguard yourself when reviewing sources of health information.
Online sources of health information should make it easy for people to learn who is responsible for posting the information. They should make clear the original source of the information, along with the medical credentials of the people who prepare or review the posted material.
Use the following questions to determine the credibility of health information published online.
- Who manages this information?
The person or group that has published 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 with “.edu” are run by a university or other educational institution. These are sources that you can usually trust. If you see “.org” or “.com” at the end of a web address, it may also be a trusted site. However, check it closely to make sure.
- Who is paying for the project, and what is their purpose?
You should be able to find this information in the “About Us” section.
- What is the original source of the information that they have posted?
If the information was originally published in a research journal or a book, they should say which one(s) so that you can find it.
- How is information reviewed before it gets posted?
Most health information publications have someone with medical or research credentials (e.g., someone who has earned an M.D., D.O., or Ph.D.) review the information before it gets posted, to make sure it is correct.
- How current is the information?
Online health information sources should show you when the information was posted or last reviewed.
- If they are asking for personal information, how will they use that information and how will they protect your privacy?
This is very important. Do not share personal information until you understand the policies under which it will be used and you are comfortable with any risk involved in sharing your information online.
Social media sites (such as Facebook, Twitter) are good ways to stay connected. However, when you’re seeking medical information, only follow social media from reputable sources. Many trusted organizations have social media accounts that link to their websites. For example, the Thailand Cancer Help has an official Facebook page and many Twitter accounts from its offices and departments.
When it comes to personal social media accounts, it’s common for users to post their experiences with illness. This may include:
- How they’re feeling physically
- Treatments they’re going through
- Complementary therapies they’re using, such as a type of diet or supplements
- What feelings they’re having
But remember that everyone is different. Even someone with the exact same kind of cancer has a different body and health history from you. And never take recommendations for treatment or medicines from someone 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 current, or what the user’s knowledge of cancer is.
For more information about evaluating online resources, including websites, social media, mobile apps, and fake news sites, see the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health’s webpage, Finding and Evaluating Online Resources.
A number of books have been written about cancer, cancer treatment, and complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Some books contain trustworthy content, while others do not.
It’s important to know that information is always changing and that new research results are reported every day. Be aware that if a book is written by only one person, you may only be getting that one person’s view.
If you go to the library, ask the staff for suggestions. Or if you live near a college or university, there may be a medical library available. Local bookstores may also have people on staff who can help you. If you find a book online, look very carefully at the author’s credentials, background, and expertise. Questions you may want to ask yourself are:
- Is the author an expert on this subject?
- Do you know anyone else who has read the book?
- Has the book been reviewed by other experts?
- Was it published in the past 5 years?
- Does the book offer different points of view, or does it seem to hold one opinion?
- Has the author researched the topic in full?
- Are the references listed in the back?
If you want to look for articles you can trust, search online medical journal databases or ask your librarian to help you look for medical journals, books, and other research that has been done 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 claims are made in a magazine, remember:
- The authors may not have expert knowledge in this area.
- They may not say where they found their information.
- The articles have not been reviewed by experts.
- The publisher may have ties to advertisers or other organizations. Therefore, the article may be one-sided in the information or view(s) it presents.
When you read these articles, you can use the same process that the magazine writer uses:
- Speak with experts
- Ask lots of questions
- Then decide if the therapy is right for you
Where to Get More Help
Cancer Treatment Scams
A page from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that advises people to ask their health care provider about products that claim to cure or treat cancer and offers tips for spotting treatment scams.
For Consumers: Protecting Yourself
A page from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that includes links to several resources that have tips about buying medicines and other products online.
Evaluating Cancer Information on the Internet
Developed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), Cancer.Net provides information, including common misconceptions about cancer and tips to evaluate the credibility of online cancer information.