Cancer on the Internet

For many people, the internet has become the first place to go when looking for information. You can get instant access to almost any topic you can think of – including a lot of cancer information.

Some of this information is more reliable than the rest, but it can be hard to tell.

On the internet there is a lot of opinion, salesmanship, and testimonials. These are often not grounded in science. It may take some extra time, but the wrong information can hurt you when it comes to cancer. Here are some ideas on what to look for and what to avoid.

User Beware

On the Internet anyone can post any kind of information online. Some people may be passing along information that’s limited, inaccurate, or just plain wrong.

Scammers use the internet because it’s cheap, and it’s anonymous, and it’s global. It’s also uncensored, unvalidated, uncontrolled, and many of the published claims of “fact” cannot be held to account for their validity or any damage they do.

In short, it’s a place where it’s easy to be misled.

If you saw a sign in a small, run-down shop saying it was the largest supplier of medical devices in Australia, you’d be suspicious. But if it’s a professional-looking website, it will be harder for you to decide if what they are saying is true.

The information you find online should not take the place of medical advice. If you have a health-related problem, please talk to a doctor.


Remember that when you do a search, the first listings, at the top, are the “sponsored” findings. They are ads for other websites that relate to your search. Sometimes you might find the links helpful, but most are trying to sell a product and make money. It’s probably not the kind of information you want to use in choosing your cancer treatment.

Simferopol, Russia - July 9, 2014: Google biggest Internet search engine. domain was registered September 15, 1997.


Who owns the Site?

Is the site run by an individual or an organization, and who? Are they a business, government agency, or non-profit organization?

Most transparent sites will show something like “About Us”. You can get an idea about who runs a site by looking at the letters at the end of the address.

  • .edu are educational groups such as a college or university
  • .org are usually a non-profit organisation
  • .gov are part of a national, state or local government
  • .com are usually commercial businesses

In Australia the most reliable sources of health information tend to be government agencies, hospitals, universities, and major public health organisations. They tend only to seek to educate the reader. But even on a non-profit website, if the site is full of ads or it is sponsored by a company or other interest, ask yourself whether the information there might be biased in some way.

What are their sources?

Is it based on scientific facts, or is it based on opinions or personal experiences? Personal stories can be quite moving but they may not apply to you. A few people saying that they’ve done well on a certain treatment (which may not be true) doesn’t mean that you or others will.

Testimonials describing another person’s experiences with a different kind of cancer (or even the same type of cancer, in a different stage or in someone with different medical problems) may not be related to the choices you are facing.

Does their information seem biased?

Information should be balanced, giving both sides. If information describes a treatment, know that all treatments have unwanted effects. So if none are discussed, that’s a warning sign.

There should also be a disclaimer saying that the content is intended for information and not medical advice. Those trying to pass off their information as medical advice are also in breach of many Australian consumer & health laws.

 Do they ask for your details?

Websites that are providing health information have no need to ask for information like your surname, address, phone credit card number, date of birth, or anything personal. Sometimes they might promote a ‘special report’, and ask for your email address to send it to. Often, that email address will receive further promotions and offers, trying to sell related products.

Warning signs

In the US the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has a list of claims that might make you suspicious:

  • Claims of a “scientific breakthrough,” “miraculous cure,” “secret ingredient,” or “ancient remedy”
  • Claims a product can cure a wide range of illnesses (No one product can do this.)
  • Stories of people who’ve had “amazing” results, but no clear scientific data
  • Claims of a “money-back” guarantee (makes it appear risk-free, but often impossible to get your money back.)
  • Websites without the company’s name, street address, phone or contact information

Often sites are based overseas, and many are promoting complementary or alternative cancer treatments.

Online support groups and chat rooms

Online support groups are groups of people who share information and support over the internet. These websites allow people to connect with others. Some people find online support groups helpful – it might be comforting to share your experiences. However these places may not be the best sources of health information, so discuss any information you think is helpful with your GP or specialist to see if it applies to you.

Getting E-mails

If you share your email address it is possible you will get e-mails.

Well intentioned friends and family may also send you e-mails with cancer information and various cancer treatment options. Consider where the information came from. Many companies use e-mail to advertise and promote sales.

One way to sift them is to identify respected, reliable sources of health information and use them as your main resources. Or if it’s a new idea, talk to your doctor about it.

Join Our Mailing List