Local News

Some Online Cancer Information Can Be Misleading

Posted August 16, 2004

— Just hearing the word cancer can have a devastating effect on those diagnosed with the disease. Many people looking for more information, turn to the Internet. As patients surf the Web looking for hope, many may find discouraging news.

Four years ago, Steve Shakal learned he had lung cancer. He wanted to know more about the disease, so he went online.

"I searched for 'lung cancer' and I got oodles and oodles and oodles of hits," he said.

What Shakal found about his advanced-stage cancer did not cheer him up.

"I looked at the Internet and I thought, 'I guess I ought to call the kids. I'm going to die,'" he said.

Tumors spread from Shakal's lungs to other parts of his body, including his brain. His treatment involved chemotherapy, radiation and two major surgeries.

Despite what Internet sources told him, Shakal is now apparently cancer free.

The Internet is an endless source for cancer information, cancer products and offers to participate in small cancer studies.

"Some of it can be very factual, but some of it can be very advertising, too, trying to promote a product or a treatment course that may or may not be efficacious to that patient," said Dr. Pete Hoffman, an oncologist at Rex Hospital.

Cancer information on the Web is often outdated.

Pamphlets in a cancer resource center at Rex Hospital are regularly updated to reflect scientific advances. Old news, especially for cancer patients, is never good news.

"To destroy someone's hope because of something you read on the Internet -- that may not even relate to that patient -- is an extreme tragedy," Hoffman said.

As a volunteer cancer counselor, Shakal has advice for cancer patients hungry for information.

"Be very careful when you look at the Internet -- very careful," Shakal warned.

Always check with your oncologist about products found or purchases on the Internet. Even some herbal medications can interfere with chemotherapy or other treatments.


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