Cancer Group urges oncologists to fight medical misinformation


Health professionals must participate in research to better understand cancer misinformation, how to combat it, and how to reach the population most affected by health misinformation online, according to a call to action from the Collaboration for Outcomes Using Social Media in Oncology (COSMO). .”

The rise of online misinformation has become an “urgent concern” within health care as a whole, and oncology in particular, wrote Eleonora Teplinsky, MD, of Valley-Mount Sinai Comprehensive Cancer Care at Paramus, New Jersey and his COSMO colleagues.

Health care consumers, with varying degrees of health and scientific knowledge, now have unrestricted access to a multitude of online sources of cancer information, most of which may not be reliable or worthy. trustworthy, they said in a JCO Oncology Practice review.

Skyler Johnson, MD, of the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, noted that this call to action “is important because it helps establish the need to move forward in terms what kind of research we should be focusing on and how we can help our patients sort out what’s right and what’s not.”

Johnson, who did not participate in the current review, co-wrote a 2021 Journal of the National Cancer Institute study that found that a third of the most popular articles about cancer treatment on social media contained misinformation. They also found that most of this misinformation was potentially harmful enough to lead to adverse consequences such as treatment delays and/or adverse interactions with the current standard of care.

Teplinsky and colleagues gave examples of how misinformation has had a widespread impact on oncology, such as data from a 2021 European Urology showing that nearly 70% of bladder cancer content on YouTube was of average to poor quality. A 2019 European Urology A study has shown that there is a significant negative correlation between scientific quality and viewer engagement among prostate cancer informational videos on YouTube, with users more likely to view low-quality videos or biased rather than better quality information.

Johnson and colleagues found a similar trend in their study: “Articles that contain more misinformation and harmful information are actually shared more online or get more online engagements than actually accurate and safe information,” did he declare. MedPage today.

Therefore, “medical misinformation can spread quite quickly (or go viral), particularly because most social media platform algorithms push content with more views or engagement,” Teplinsky and colleagues observed. . “Thus, online cancer information is inconsistent and sometimes at odds with published data and expert opinion. It’s no wonder patients become confused and unsure of where to turn and who to do. trust.”

So what can providers do to help oncologists and other healthcare providers respond to misinformation? The authors’ suggestions included:

  • Remind healthcare professionals that science literacy is a “significant issue” in the United States and a driver for the spread of misinformation; “Healthcare providers should view the internet as a collaborative tool that has the potential to help patients and care partners better manage their disease, especially when we use it to speak plain language to our constituents , thus making complicated studies more accessible”
  • Equip healthcare professionals with resources and training in health communication and the use of social media to disseminate scientifically validated health information
  • Encourage cancer professionals to proactively raise awareness of low-quality information — or even misinformation — while sharing and educating patients about high-quality information

Johnson said individual oncologists should be aware that misinformation is a major issue that virtually all patients will face.

“I think we know that the vast majority of cancer patients go online to get more information about their cancers,” he said. “So we can’t ignore the fact that people are going online. We have to recognize that there’s a lot of information that’s hard to discern, whether it’s true or false. And then we have to advise our patients that they’re going to encounter information that is going to be potentially misleading, even harmful.”

This will open up lines of communication with patients so they feel comfortable raising the issue of online cancer information in the first place, Johnson said.

“I think one of the things that’s pretty clear is that some patients don’t even want to tell their oncologist, for fear of judgment, that they’re interested in an unproven treatment,” he said. he declares. “As oncologists, we have to deal with the fact that our patients may be open to these kinds of things; let them know that we want to work with them; help them make the best decisions possible; and just establish that we have common goals, which is to cure cancer and to do so with as few side effects as possible.”

Teplinksy and colleagues pointed out that “the role of confirmation bias and the echo chamber effect has been clearly demonstrated in discussions of vaccine hesitancy (in general), which preceded the COVID pandemic. -19 (and the issues surrounding COVID-19 vaccines in particular),” but that this discussion was “outside the scope of this article.”

  • Mike Bassett is a writer who focuses on oncology and hematology. He is based in Massachusetts.


Teplinsky revealed relationships with GlaxoSmithKline, Eisai and Tesaro. The co-authors disclosed multiple industry relationships.

Johnson did not disclose any relationship with the industry.


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