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How to investigate cancer treatments

A middle-aged man sitting at a computer.

Discover sources of sound information about cancer treatment. And find out why you need to be wary when looking online.

Your doctor says you have cancer, and now you have important decisions to make. As you begin to move beyond the shock of your diagnosis, you may be ready to learn about the treatment choices available to you.

But before you do an internet search for cancer treatments, it's important to realize that:

  • Not everyone with cancer will have exactly the same treatment choices. Your options will depend on your specific type of cancer and its stage (whether it was diagnosed early or late). Your treatment goals, whether that's beating the cancer outright or controlling it for as long as possible, are important too. So are your feelings about treatment side effects.
  • Your cancer care team has answers. Do not hesitate to ask your doctor or nurses questions you might have about your cancer and its possible treatments, including both their potential risks and benefits. They are there to answer your questions. They can offer the most effective treatment plan for you.
  • Unless treatment must begin immediately, take time to research your treatment choices. But ask your doctor or nurse about this.

3 tips for researching cancer online

Still, like many people facing a serious illness, you might find yourself turning to the internet and other sources of information to learn more about your treatment options. And your search may be fruitful. Or it might yield unreliable information.

That’s why it's important to be cautious when researching your treatment options. It may helpful to keep these three precautions in mind:

1. Seek credible sources of information. Your cancer care team can suggest trustworthy sites. Your best bets for reliable, up-to-date information? The federal government, national nonprofit organizations and medical specialty groups, such as:

  • The American Cancer Society (ACS). Their website, cancer.org, contains detailed information about different types of cancer. You’ll find up-to-date material on your specific type of cancer, a breakdown of treatment types and issues to discuss with your doctor. You can also call the ACS at 1.800.227.2345 to speak to a cancer information specialist.
  • The National Cancer Institute (NCI). The NCI’s website, cancer.gov, contains a wealth of information on a wide range of cancer types and includes helpful advice on coping with the disease. You can also call 1.800.4.CANCER (1.800.422.6237) to speak to an NCI information specialist who can answer questions about things such as your diagnosis, treatment and living with cancer.
  • ClinicalTrials.gov. A service of the National Library of Medicine, this website contains a registry of thousands of clinical trials. Such research studies use human volunteers to test new treatments. You can use this website to find out what clinical trials you might be eligible for. Each study has its own guidelines, determining who can participate.
  • The National Library of Medicine. This is the world’s largest medical library. You can access its database and search for summaries of the latest cancer research available in medical journals at pubmed.gov.

2. Be wary of scams. Be skeptical about claims online or elsewhere that a treatment might cure cancer. Also be suspicious of testimonials from other cancer patients claiming amazing results. They may seem genuine and heartfelt. But they could be fake stories told by actors, according to the Federal Trade Commission. And even if the people are real patients, anecdotal evidence isn't reliable. Effective cancer treatments are based on established guidelines.

3. Circle back for feedback. If you’re curious about a treatment you discover through your research, ask your doctor about it.

Some questions you may want to ask:

  • Does the treatment work?
  • Does research support its effectiveness?
  • What are the possible risks, side effects or benefits for my specific case?
  • Has it been proven to be safe?
  • Reviewed 1/12/2021

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