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Cancer Websites You Can Use:People Living With Cancer

Cancer Websites You Can Use:People Living With Cancer

People Living With Cancer (www.plwc.org, Figure 1), the patient-oriented website posted by the American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO), has emerged as one of the preeminent cancer patient education sites, and for good reason: It offers excellent site organization, easy navigability, and useful information. According to a note in the About Us section of the site, ASCO experts review all content, although who reviewed each page is not specified; individual pages are not dated to allow the user to check for currency. Another note points out that the site subscribes to the HONcode principles of the Health on the Net (HON) Foundation, an international group that has promulgated medical information site quality standards. Pharmaceutical sponsorship is tastefully displayed on the initial pages, with no evident impact on content and no pop-ups or overt advertising. Simple Organization
The site offers the option of general cancer information or search by diagnosis, leading to well-organized pages with a simple overriding organizational structure. Searching by tumor type produces an appealing, easily read menu including the basics (eg, an introduction, risk factors and prevention, symptoms, diagnosis, staging, research on the horizon, treatment) These basic informational sections are just that-rather basic and limited to fairly generic descriptions, especially of treatments such as surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy. Some cancer types have patient guides on specific topics (for example, Tumor Markers for Breast Cancer). The website consists almost entirely of text, with scarce graphics. Useful Integration
Other PLWC and ASCO site features are notably integrated, including a News Center that links to recent Reuter's health articles, ASCO resources, and other relevant organizations. Many physician resources are placed at the patient's disposal, including recent ASCO lectures, physician- directed treatment guidelines, and searchable ASCO abstracts. A section of the Knowledge Center called "Cancer Advances: News for Patients from the ASCO Annual Meeting" provides patient information material written about some of the more high-profile presentations (Figure 2). A "live chat"-each month on a different cancer topic-is prominently featured on the home page, and previous chats are archived and available. One of the best site features, in the Understanding Cancer section, is the discussion of clinical trials from a patient perspective. Other Features
Recently revised message boards conveniently allow for multiple threaded discussions within topics (mostly organized by cancer types, but also more general cancer topics such as "coping with feelings" and "family and friends"). Other site features include a medical dictionary link, a drug database (which is long on side effects and with which I had some navigation problems), and an outstanding compilation of cancer-related support organizations grouped by diagnosis. Many relatively uncommon tumors are covered, including such rarities as Ewing's sarcoma and carcinoid tumors. Indeed, this site does contain extensive information, some of which may be hard to sift through to find relevance to a particular disease. For example, the News Center contains all cancer-related Reuter's news. The user's best bet is to go with the diagnosis- related pages, where there has already been some sorting. In summary, PLWC is a good source of patient education, especially for those who are already knowledgeable about their disease and want to use a website to keep up on the latest advances. If you recommend this site, however, be prepared to answer questions, as it will put your patients in contact with a large volume of physician-oriented information. In the News
The number of "cyberchondriacs" (those who go online to search for health-care information) appears to be plateauing.[1] After documenting in- creases in the utilization of the Internet for health-care information year after year since the inception of the poll in 1998, the 2003 Harris Poll numbers appear to have stabilized at 52% of all US adults (and 80% of regular online users). The poll was conducted by telephone among a nationwide cross-section of over 1,000 adults. The highest percentages of cyberchondriacs are found among college graduates (76%) and those with household incomes above $75,000 (79%).


1. Available at www.harrisinteractive.com/ news/newsletters_healthcare.asp. Accessed August 5, 2003.
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