Consumers frequently turn to the Internet to gather information about health conditions, and cancer is no exception. According to a report from the National Cancer Institute that was published in the Archives on Internal Medicine, people younger than 65 years more commonly prefer the Internet over their physician when researching cancer and treatments, with 61 percent going to the Internet before going to their physician.

For a new study, researchers set out to determine if cancer centers that offer complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), such as massage therapy, do a good job of presenting information about CAM on their websites.

“With increasing frequency, patients with cancer and their family members are turning to the Internet to educate themselves about their disease and treatment options, including complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and supportive care,” the researchers noted in a statement on “However, very little is known about how national leading cancer centers represent these therapies via their websites.”

Researchers posed as patients to locate and evaluate CAM-related information on the websites of 41 National Cancer Institute- designated comprehensive cancer centers.

The most common CAM approaches mentioned on the websites were:
• acupuncture (59 percent)
• meditation (56 percent)
• nutrition (56 percent)
• spiritual support (56 percent)
• yoga (56 percent)
• massage therapy (54 percent)
• music therapy (51 percent).

Among the results:
• of 41 centers, 12 (29 percent) did not have functional websites with regard to information related to CAM.
• twenty-nine (71 percent) of these websites had a telephone number available
• twenty-two (54 percent) mentioned at least one ongoing research opportunity
• nineteen (46 percent) provided links to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine website

Median rating of the quality of websites was 50 of 100, with only seven (17 percent) of centers receiving a composite score 80 (excellent) or better.

“While a growing number of leading cancer centers provide information about CAM and supportive oncology information for patients via their websites, the quality and ease of navigation of these sites remain highly variable,” the researchers noted. “Effective development and redesign of many of the websites is needed to better inform and empower patients and families seeking CAM and supportive care information.”

The research was published recently in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.

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