That said, people facing cancer often can glean valuable information and support through the internet. âThe internet can be a tool that can give people access to good scientifically vetted information,â Dr. Schapira said. âIt can help patients be better prepared for a consultation with an expert. And after such a consultation, they can check on the wisdom of the advice they got.â
She suggests relying on web-based resources that are free of commercial interests. Even sites posted by medical institutions can be self-promoting. In addition to www.cancer.net, which is prepared by members of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Dr. Schapira recommended information offered by the American Cancer Society (www.cancer.org) and the National Cancer Institute (www.cancer.gov), as well as the free patient-oriented arm of a site called UpToDate that translates into lay terms the best available information that doctors get.
The cancer institute notes that the three letters attached to a siteâs domain name can give people insight into the independence and validity of information it contains; best to choose .edu or .gov over .com.
In addition to providing valuable information and guidance to trustworthy sources, the internet can help patients glean psychosocial support through online groups. In a review of 170 studies of patients who use information technology, Danielle Gentile of the Levine Cancer Institute of Atrium Health in Charlotte, N.C., and her co-authors found that social media communities can be very helpful to cancer patients, especially those who lack personal social support. Cancer patients can converse with others, anonymously or otherwise, about emotional and spiritual issues and glean helpful firsthand tips on dealing with treatment-related issues.
But while some online communities âare curated by medical professionals, others may be posted by people who have no scientific knowledge,â Dr. Schapira cautioned. The information patients glean through such lay communities is best discussed with their doctors lest they be led down the garden path of bad advice.
She also suggested that patients not be pressured to research their cancers until and unless they are emotionally and intellectually ready to deal with the information they uncover.
âIt may be better to let others look things up,â she said. âDifferent people need different information at different times. Some people are not ready to absorb all the information upfront, and thatâs completely normal. Some want to receive the information but leave decisions to the experts, while others want to have a hand in making the decisions.â
Donât be afraid to discuss alternative remedies with the doctors treating your cancer, and be sure to tell them about any such remedy you plan to try in case it can interact badly with prescribed treatments. Nearly all major medical centers now have departments of integrative medicine, and todayâs oncologists are well aware of how much the mind can influence the bodyâs well-being, Dr. Schapira said.