Macmillan warns patients about false information and fake cancer cures online

Cancer charity Macmillan has created a digital nurse specialist role to help signpost patients to reliable information online and steer them away from false information and fake cures.

Cancer charity Macmillan has created a digital nurse specialist role to help signpost patients to reliable information online and steer them away from false information and fake cures

Cancer nurse specialist Ellen McPake. Picture: Macmillan Cancer Support

A cancer charity has created a digital nurse specialist role to help combat false information and about cancer diagnosis and fake cures online.

Ellen McPake, a cancer nurse specialist with more than 35 years experience, started the new role at Macmillan Cancer Support in August.

She is dedicated to answering questions from people affected by cancer online, on Macmillan’s social media platforms and its online community.

The charity is concerned some patients come away from appointments without the information they need and turn to unreliable internet sites, which can leave them needlessly frightened and at risk of trying bogus cures.

Quack cures

Ms McPake gave the example of searching the term ‘cure for cancer’ online, which brings up pages of information about taking sodium bicarbonate.

She said: ‘There is a lot of misinformation out there. We are trying to say be aware that not everything out there online is necessarily true.

‘As more and more people seek information about their cancer online, we want them to know that charities like Macmillan are able to offer reliable health advice.

‘I’m there to make sure people affected by cancer have a real person they can turn to online for information about their symptoms, cancer diagnosis and treatment.’

Research findings

Macmillan research found:

  • Over two fifths of people with cancer look up information about their diagnosis online.
  • Of those, 1 in 8 said they went online because they didn’t fully understand what they had been told about their cancer.
  • An estimated 60,000 British people with cancer thought they were going to die after looking up information about their disease online.

Digital world

Ms McPake, who previously worked as a nurse on the Macmillan telephone support line, has already held some question and answer sessions on Facebook.

'People have been very responsive. The first session had over 50,000 people look at it and we had lots of shares and positive comments.

'The digital world is expanding and more and more people are wanting different ways to connect and find answers.'

Macmillan joint chief medical officer Jane Maher said: 'It’s completely natural for people to want to Google their diagnosis when they’re told they have cancer.

'But with countless unverified statistics, fake news and horror stories on the internet, ending up on the wrong website can be really worrying.

Routine treatments

'This can leave people pinning their hopes on a dangerous bogus cure or underestimating the benefit of routine treatments.'

The charity is also calling for healthcare professionals to receive more training on what digital information is available, so they can signpost their patients them to trusted sites.

Professor Maher added: 'When someone learns they have cancer, it’s really important that healthcare professionals fully explain what their diagnosis means and the support available to them.

'They should also be able signpost their patients to trusted sources online so they aren’t left open to incorrect or misleading information.'

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