If you google the word 'Cancer,' you get over 946 million hits. New research shows that 315 million of those contain misleading or flat-out wrong information about treatments.
A team at the famed Huntsman Cancer Institute studied the 200 most popular English articles about breast, prostate, colorectal and lung cancer on social media sites Facebook, Reddit, Twitter and Pinterest. They found that 1 in 3 of those articles contained misinformation, with a majority carrying harmful information. The most common errors? Misleading titles, misused evidence and unproven therapies. More troubling were articles that urged people to delay or avoid medical attention for curable conditions, self-medicate with potentially toxic substances, or use alternative therapies that could trigger lethal interactions with other treatments.
What’s more, researchers found that false claims seemed to pick up legitimacy just by getting posted on social media sites, where vulnerable & desperate patients look for some measure of hope. In one instance, a story with harmful information was shared 2300 times, while safe articles received only 1500 shares.
Doctors who’ve seen this study say social media titans like Facebook have a “duty to identify such misleading sources”, but are also calling on physicians to intervene as they guide patients through social media stories promoting therapies and cures, which seem too good to be true. To that end, Huntsman is creating a database to identify article-specific features linked to misinformation.
Best advice here? Ask your doctor if you read or hear something about cancer that seems fishy. Be skeptical. Lies can be subtle. Consider the source. And look at more than one source for your information.