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How to Find Cancer Resources You Can Trust

It's important to get information about cancer and other health matters from reliable sources like government websites and professional medical societies.

Credit: iStock

Cancer and other 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.

Unfortunately, it has become very common for false or misleading information to be found online and in print. If a source makes claims that are too good to be true, remember—they usually are.

There are many resources that provide cancer and other health information to the public, but not all of them are trustworthy. Use the tips below to protect yourself when looking for health information.

How to find trustworthy websites

There are so many websites with cancer information that it can be hard to know which ones to trust. Credible sources of cancer and other health information should make it easy for people to learn who is posting the content. They should make clear the original source of the information, along with the expert credentials of the people who prepare or review the online material.

Ask the following questions to decide if health information online is credible:

  • 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. Are they selling something or promoting a "cure"? If so, be very careful! 
  • 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's 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.

How to use social media and email safely

It’s common to go to social media sites to find cancer information. These sites (such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter) can be helpful when they're up-to-date and trustworthy. They also can be good ways for people to connect with others who have similar health issues and questions.

It’s important to only follow social media from reputable sources. Ask the same questions when using social media that you would ask for using a website. Many trusted organizations have social media accounts that link to their websites. For example, the National Cancer Institute has official Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter pages in English and Spanish.

Related, mobile apps are often used to track health activities, such as diet and exercise. Some people use them to record medicine schedules or doctor visits. Using these methods can be very useful. However, not all are reliable or safe. Seek advice from your medical team or others you trust before using them.

Always use caution when using your email or texting. Do not click on a link in a message unless you know or trust the sender. And never open an attachment unless it comes from a trustworthy source. This is true whether you're on your phone or your computer.

Reading other people's stories about their cancer

When it comes to personal social media accounts, it's common for users to post their experiences with cancer. 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. 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 details and information about evaluating online resources, including websites, social media, mobile apps, and fake news sites, see NIH's National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health's webpage, Finding and Evaluating Online Resources.

How to find articles about cancer

If you want to look for articles about cancer that you can trust, search online medical journal databases or ask a librarian for guidance. (Or if you live near a college or university, there may be a medical library you can use.) They can help you look for medical journals, books, and other research in cancer that has been done by experts. Two trusted sites for articles include PubMed and MedlinePlus, both from the National Library of Medicine

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 below.

  • The authors may not have a lot of knowledge in this area.
  • They may not say where they found their information.
  • The articles most likely 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 articles about cancer, you can use the same process that the article writer uses:

  • speak with experts
  • ask lots of questions
  • decide if the information applies to you

How to find books about cancer

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.  By the time a book is published, the contents may be outdated. Also, 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. 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?

Anatomy of a Cancer Treatment Scam

Anatomy of a Cancer Treatment Scam

The Federal Trade Commission developed this video to help people maintain a healthy level of skepticism when they are searching for information about cancer, so that they don’t become victims of fraud.

Where to get more help

How to Evaluate Trustworthiness in Science
A list of questions and links to other resources that can help you assess the quality of science information you may be reading.

Know the Science: The Facts About Health News Stories
An interactive page from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health that explains how to interpret complementary health stories published in the media.

Common Health Scams
A page from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that advises people to ask their health care provider about products that claim to improve health and offers tips for spotting treatment scams.

How to Spot Health Fraud
A page from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that describes the ins and outs of health fraud with tips on how to avoid it. 

Quick Tips for Buying Medicines over the Internet
Also from the FDA, this page explains how to safely buy medicines online, including a link to its source for online pharmacy information, BeSafeRx.

Finding Cancer Information on the Internet
Developed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), this page provides information, including common misconceptions about cancer, and tips to evaluate the credibility of online cancer information.

Is This Legit? Accessing Valid and Reliable Health Information
A lesson plan created by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) designed to help students in grades 9 through 12 learn to access valid and reliable health information.

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