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The Cancer Misinformation Problem on Social Media

When I scan news feeds for cancer information, I sometimes see lots of inaccurate stuff out there. It infuriates me to see all the fake news. I was overwhelmed with bad, unwanted advice while I was going through treatment. I am a writer and a breast cancer survivor.

The misinformation problem is even worse than I originally thought. According to a recent study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, one-third of popular articles about cancer treatment contain inaccurate information.

Wow. That means that cancer patients may be led to make potentially harmful decisions about their treatment and impact their chances for survival. It’s a scary thought.

Another interesting fact is that the articles used in the research got more engagement than articles with evidence-based facts. Some individuals are receptive to me correcting them gently for spreading misinformation, but many are not. On the other hand, I have observed that some people take these stories as gospel and will fight if challenged. I have muted or unfollowed some people on social media because they refused to stop sharing misleading and false articles.

The idea of wading through mountains of wrong info is daunting. How do I separate the wheat from the chaff?

Consider the source: When I see questionable claims about some green gloop “cure” or myths such as microwave ovens causing cancer, I look at the source. If I do not recognize a website address, I will Google it. A search will often identify the site as disseminating fake news.

It may also reveal bias that skews research findings. It is also important to check the date of any studies that are mentioned.

There are several ways we can discover if the news is misleading or false:

Do a browser search on the information: Do microwaves cause cancer? “No,” according to Dr. Google. I have had to train my brains to ask questions instead of accepting everything at face value.

Go to reliable sources: Doctors and organizations serving cancer patients and their families can answer our queries and point us to other resources. For example, I asked questions about natural remedies. My doctor told me to let him know what herbal concoctions I was considering taking. Then, he would let me know if the remedy was OK to take. If not, my physician would educate me about possible side effects and if the remedy would interfere with my drug regimen.

I often wonder why so many people believe in false claims about amazing cancer “cures.” Sure, some people are gullible and easily deceived. However, I think one core reason for their belief is that people want to ease their fears. They want to put their hopes and confidence in wonder foods, strange preventative measures and amazing “cures.” Believing in false ideas may give them a sense of control over the scary big C.

I am sad that the media feeds off people’s fears, making lots of money spreading misinformation. It is easy to get sucked into having faith in fake news, but I am ready to fight it when my chemo brain does not get in the way.

It is my hope that more people will start challenging what they are reading and join that battle against misinformation about cancer and other chronic conditions.

Reference: Huntsman Cancer Institute

Getty image by fizkes