It’s a familiar news headline: Studies link XYZ to cancer. And whether XYZ means poor diet, lack of sleep, cell phone use, or using certain products, it can be hard to sort through the clutter to find reliable health information about cancer.
Below I’ve listed a few things to be wary of when seeking credible information about cancer, along with some reputable sources, so you can make the best decisions for your health.
What we do know
It may sound oversimplified, but eating healthy, avoiding tobacco and alcohol and maintaining a healthy body weight all reduce the risk of cancer. I like to call these things ‘the big four’ as they are preventative measures and reduce your risk of cancer by 50-67 percent. Additionally, if you do receive a cancer diagnosis – despite doing everything correctly – you’ll also respond better to treatments, be it surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy.
When doing your research, there is lots of information competing for your attention. It’s important to make sure the organization distributing the information has your best interest at heart.
A simple “what causes cancer” search in Google or another search engine can display a host of results – some reliable and some not. Consider these:
- Media outlets: It’s hard to get the full story from a three minute news segment or a short news article. Frequently, the consumer is left to make their own conclusions to determine if the information is applicable to them. In the case of cell phones causing cancer, the consumer is left to decide if they need to limit cell phone use or stop use all together. Always watch – or listen – for the words “for more information.” Most reputable news outlets will generally direct you to a reputable source for more information.
- Medical researchers: In general, medical researchers play a vital role in determining the causes of cancer; however, the results of one study don’t always represent the whole picture. Look for an official medical journal that includes several studies over time where the results are consistent. The New England Journal of Medicine, The Journal of Clinical Oncology, Annual Review of Medicine, The Lancet, Journal of the American Medical Association are all top tier journals with frequent articles relating to cancer.
- Bloggers: Bloggers like to tell their story, and it’s usually based on their own experience and conclusions, without any scientific data. What happened to one blogger may or may not represent the medical consensus. Be wary of bloggers giving medical advice.
- Sponsored content: Frequently, organizations will purchase content on a news website to sell their products or services. These are ads that look like news stories, even when a disclosure message appears such as “sponsored content.” Sponsored content is not objective editorial content, and generally the organization sponsoring the content has an agenda or gains financially by posting it.
- Press releases: What may appear as a news article can often be a press release from an organization trying to promote their products or services. If an organization’s name and logo are attached, most likely it’s not coming from an objective source.
- Sensationalized headlines: Be wary of catchy headlines that hook you in to the information only to learn it’s sponsored content. Read past the headline to determine if it’s a credible source or not.
- The source: Ask yourself if the information is research-based and who is presenting the information. Additionally, examine the author’s credentials and experience. If that person isn’t a doctor or medical professional, it may be better to keep searching.
Go to a trusted source
First and foremost, your physician is your best resource for cancer detection and prevention. If you have symptoms and wonder if they are cancerous, talking to your physician is a great starting point. He or she can do an exam, order tests or direct you to a specialist.
The American Cancer Society website is also an excellent source of understandable information about cancer prevention, detections, treatments, and statistics. It is well organized and written to educate the lay public as well as those needing credible facts about cancer. To first learn more about these topics before or after consulting a physician, this is an excellent single source of credible information.
So the next time you’re evaluating your symptoms or considering treatment, do your research and go to your physician with specific questions. With all of the information swirling around, it’s important to make sure you are consulting with the right sources so you can make informed decisions about your health.