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This page was published on 17/11/2006
Published: 17/11/2006

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Published: 17 November 2006  
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Online cancer info not up to EU standards

The internet gives individuals unprecedented access to information on practically any topic. It is only natural that anyone with a given medical condition might turn to the internet to learn more about their malady. One downside of the internet, perhaps its biggest, is its lack of oversight. There is no guarantee that the information we find on the internet is accurate, and this can be particularly worrisome when we are making decisions on our health based on what we find on the internet. A recent study examined this concept by looking on cancer self-detection websites, and found that they were not up to standard.

More and more people are turning to the internet for medical information. © Nevit Dilmen
More and more people are turning to the internet for medical information.
© Nevit Dilmen
Dr Alexandra Ekman of the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden recently published a survey of cancer websites, which spans five years, in several peer reviewed journals. Throughout different stages of her study, she discovered that of the sample of sites she selected, none of them met all the quality criteria issued by the EU.

“It is important to enlighten people searching for health information on the net that some sites don't come up to scratch,” Dr Ekman says.

Her surveys were conducted in 2001, 2002 and 2005. She found that between 2001 and 2002 there was a 50 percent increase in the number of cancer risk websites dealing with such cancer types as breast, prostate, colon, and lung cancer. Only two out of 22 ‘adequately' fulfilled her quality criteria.

She says that due to the nature of the internet, it is difficult to set up a model with which such sites can be properly evaluated.

“Most sites are American, but all are available worldwide,” says Dr Ekman. “The information we found didn't score particularly high on the quality scales we used. What's more, there is no international consensus for quality criteria for the control and evaluation of information available online.”

Dr Ekman stresses that there are indeed some sites that are adequate for individuals trying to assess the type of cancer they might be susceptible to. Her study began as a survey in connection with a cancer site that was being established by the Karolinska Institutet, where she works, a few years ago. The site was based on a similar one established by Harvard Centre for Cancer Prevention, which Dr Ekman claims to be one of the more reliable ones.

Her findings were reported in Cancer Causes Control, entitled “Can we trust cancer information on the Internet?--A comparison of interactive cancer risk sites”.

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See also

Cancer Causes Control
Cancer Center Karolinska
European Cancer Health Indicator Project





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