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Macmillan: how nurses can tackle online cancer myths and bogus cures

Research by Macmillan shows thousands of people with cancer are left anxious, depressed or confused after looking for information online
Picture shows an older man appearing anxious while looking at a computer screen. Research by Macmillan shows thousands of people with cancer are left anxious, depressed or confused after finding misleading information online.

Research by Macmillan shows thousands of people with cancer are left anxious, depressed or confused after looking for information online

In todays digital world it is natural for patients to use internet search engines to find out more about their diagnosis. However, the extent of internet-induced anxiety at the point of diagnosis has been uncovered by Macmillan Cancer Supports new research published today, which reveals that more than one quarter of 1 million people living with cancer in the UK say they have been left feeling anxious, depressed or confused after looking for information online.

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Research by Macmillan shows thousands of people with cancer are left anxious, depressed or confused after looking for information online

Picture shows an older man appearing anxious while looking at a computer screen. Research by Macmillan shows thousands of people with cancer are left anxious, depressed or confused after finding misleading information online.
Picture: iStock

In today’s digital world it is natural for patients to use internet search engines to find out more about their diagnosis. However, the extent of internet-induced anxiety at the point of diagnosis has been uncovered by Macmillan Cancer Support’s new research published today, which reveals that more than one quarter of 1 million people living with cancer in the UK say they have been left feeling anxious, depressed or confused after looking for information online.

These concerning figures, which also showed that more than 50,000 people with cancer thought they were going to die after looking online and the same number found bogus cures, show that there is an important role for cancer nurses to play in ensuring patients find the right information at the right time.

Signpost to reliable sources

We can’t rid the internet of cancer myths or miracle cures, but what we can do is provide a trusted and reliable point of contact for people looking for information about cancer and its treatments. Luckily, in most cases the NHS or registered charities are the first results that appear when searching for a particular cancer, but it can be helpful to give patients a list of reputable sites to limit their need to trawl the internet more widely.

Directing patients to information and support centres for physical materials and local support groups to access peer advice is also a good way to make them aware of sources of information outside of the internet.

Make a record of important conversations

Suggesting to patients that they record a diagnosis meeting on the memo app on their mobile phone can also be another way for them to remember key pieces of information or questions they want to ask at their next meeting and reduce the need to turn to the web for answers.

Stick to the facts

Searching for information about a diagnosis online can leave people frightened, at risk of pursuing potentially dangerous bogus cures and underestimating the benefit of conventional treatments. To help sort the facts from the fake news, it can be comforting for patients to know that we look at every diagnosis individually and that every recommended treatment is based on research and clinical trials.

Alternative therapies

It is also important that we make people aware that currently no alternative therapies have been proven to cure cancer or slow its growth, and in many cases can cause harmful side effects.  There is further guidance on this on the Alternative Therapies page of the Macmillan Cancer Support website as well as the Cancer Research UK cancer myths page.

At Macmillan we are committed to supporting the 368,000 people in the UK who will be told they have cancer every year and help them make sense of the confusion and information overload that comes with a diagnosis.

One way we plan to do this is via our new tailored information and support offer – if you have a conversation with someone recently diagnosed with cancer you might find it helpful to refer them to the Macmillan website, where they can register for a series of emails that will help them to cope with the effects of a diagnosis, including planning and managing finances, talking about their diagnosis with loved ones and colleagues, and following a healthy diet during treatment.


Picture of Kate Goldie, a senior cancer information nurse specialist at Macmillan Cancer Support. Research by Macmillan shows thousands of people with cancer are left anxious, depressed or confused after finding misleading information online.Kate Goldie is a senior cancer information nurse specialist at Macmillan Cancer Support

 

 

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