There is no shortage of information available about breast cancer, from diagnosis to survival. As soon as you receive this diagnosis, you'll be flooded with medical advice, pamphlets, Web sites, breaking news about breast cancer research and personal stories of success and failure.
Somehow you must wade through all this information and make some important decisions about your health and health care. But how can you find the credible information buried in all that you are reading and hearing?
Where to Find Information About Breast Cancer
Start with your medical team, which should include a nurse or therapist who can help you find good sources of information. They will probably direct you to pamphlets, books and Web sites that have the information you need.
You can also get information from support groups and from the local branch of the American Cancer Society.
If you find information that contradicts what your medical team has advised, ask them to explain their recommendations. Share the articles or Web sites that you find with them for their response.
How to Know Whether a Treatment Works
When you are doing research, you will probably find many articles about the success of a particular treatment. This is how you can tell whether you are reading about a treatment from a reliable source:
- The preventive measures, cures or treatments can be supported with research. Good research results can be reproduced by another research team, so you should look for recommendations that are supported by more than one study.
- Credible Web sites usually have a doctor who reviews the writing on the site. That doctor's name is usually listed, and often you will be able to click on the name to get a biography and photo. When researching information on breast cancer, look for material written or reviewed by medical oncologists.
- Credible Web sites will have contact information and a published medical review policy. Although you might not always be able to ask more detailed questions about the content, you can ask how they review and create their health information.
- While many news articles include personal stories, remember that each woman's experience with breast cancer treatment is going to be different. Although breast cancer patients find invaluable support in the stories of breast cancer survivors, a course of treatment that works for one person might not be right for you.
- Look for Web sites that end in .edu or .gov. The health information available on those sites is usually backed by published research. The National Cancer Institute Web site is a good example of a government Web site that presents up-to-date medical research results.
- Compare information online with information available from disease association Web sites. These sites, such as the American Cancer Society Web site, stay on top of recent research and will provide the most credible health recommendations.
Understanding Breast Cancer Research
Research teams all over the country are working on new combinations of treatments for breast cancer as well as ways to improve the quality of life for patients and survivors. In fact, you might consider participating in a study yourself at some point. Breast cancer patients who participate in clinical trials or research studies help provide valuable information about prevention, screening, treatment and quality of life. You will see research results in the news and on Web sites. Here are some ways to figure out if research results could be useful to you:
- Research results should be drawn from research published in peer-reviewed medical or academic journals or from research that is presented at a medical conference. This means that the research is credible enough to be shared with other experts in the field. You should be able to find the original article or brief summary (called an abstract) as well as contact information about the leading author of the study if you want to do so.
- Research on combinations of drugs for treating cancer can occur before those drugs or drug combinations are approved by the Food and Drug Administration for general use. This is because research is needed to make sure drugs are safe. Ask your doctors about the status of drugs that you read about and think could be used for your treatment.
- Pay attention to the details of the study, such as the ages and ethnicities of the women who participated as well as the kind of cancer involved. A combination of drugs that worked for older women whose cancer had resisted previous treatment might not be appropriate for a younger woman facing her first treatment cycle.
- Look for research results from studies that had a large number of people participating. The larger the number of participants, the more reliable the results are going to be.
- Pay attention to the funding of studies. Research results that support the use of a drug made by the company that funded the research, for instance, are less reliable than research that used federal funds.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: The Web sites of the National Cancer Institute (www.cancer.gov) and the American Cancer Society (www.cancer.org) offer current and credible information about breast cancer.
Written by Madeline Roberts Vann, MPH
Reviewed by Susan L. Luedke, MD
St. Louis Cancer & Breast Institute
St. Louis University Medical Center
Last updated September 2008