HUNTINGTON, NY--Imagine a website designed exclusively for cancer professionals.
It would, of course, offer free access to Medline via a state-of-the-art
search tool, as well as access to the National Cancer Institute's PDQ database
Now suppose that this website also provided a reference guide to more
than 100 cancer drugs; the proceedings of the National Comprehensive Cancer
Network's (NCCN) annual conference, including the NCCN practice guidelines;
three full textbooks; a comprehensive, up-to-the-minute handbook on cancer
management; a meetings calendar; and immediate access to the full text
of more than 1,400 articles from the journal ONCOLOGY and other cancer
publications--all without charge.
After almost two years in development, this website, known as the Cancer
Information Network (CIN), is now a reality. The site is not only content
rich but remarkably easy to use. A fast search mechanism gets the user
to the desired information in only two "mouse clicks," using
the system's index of cancer subjects. It also allows users to write more
detailed search commands using plain English.
"The biggest complaint of physicians using the Internet has been
that it takes too long to find what they're looking for, and we've eliminated
that with our fast search software," John A. Gentile, Jr., president
of PRR, Inc., said in an interview. PRR is one of the foremost oncology
publishers and the producer of CIN.
Mr. Gentile foresaw, some two years ago, the advantage of taking PRR's
publications online, but he also perceived a need for a more comprehensive,
cancer-specific website that would provide the cancer professional with
a form of "one-stop shopping."
Logging on to CIN gives the user access to a wide range of resources
that can be searched with a single command. "And if it's not on our
own website, we can link you into any other website that would be useful
to the cancer specialist," Mr. Gentile said, "such as those from
the pharmaceutical industry, cancer centers, or nonprofit organizations."
Logging on to CIN
The Cancer Information Network (CIN) website was developed for optimal
In addition to the PRR, Inc. publications and other resources, CIN provides
Resources published by PRR, Inc. and currently available on the CIN
- ONCOLOGY, Oncology News International, Primary Care & Cancer,
Cancer Management, and supplements to these publications.
- An expert question-and-answer feature known as Cancer Consultations.
- The diagnostic and treatment handbook Cancer Management: A Multidisciplinary
- The M.D. Anderson Cancer Center textbook Medical Oncology.
- The Industries' Coalition Against Cancer (ICAC) syllabus for establishing
worksite cancer screening and education programs.
- The proceedings of the NCCN conference, including their practice guidelines
and detailed flow charts.
Unlike many online databases, the documents on this new website will
be offered as complete texts rather than as abstracts. Once an article
is located, the physician can print it out immediately in part or in full,
or save it as a file for printing out later. Physicians can also request,
for a small fee, the full text of articles located through Medline or AIDSline,
with items faxed within 24 hours.
The key to the ease of searching the CIN database is its intuitive navigation
scheme and natural-language search system, explained Edwin S. Geffner,
director of the Division of Interactive Media at PRR. "Most of the
development time was spent in devising a way to let the user get the information
quickly without going through multiple menus," Mr. Geffner said.
On the opening page, the CIN website
provides a general index of more than 50 broad categories, including specific
cancers and cancer complications.
Clicking on one of these categories immediately generates a disease-specific
table of contents of all the relevant items in the PRR database, subcategorized
by diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, etc. With a second click on the title
of the desired document, the user instantly gets the full text of the article.
Color Shows Type of Resource
To help users quickly find the type of information they want, the items
in the table of contents are tagged with color-coded icons that indicate
the type of resource--news/commentary (red), review article (gold), handbook
(blue), or consultation (green). The items are listed in reverse chronological
order, with the most recent items listed first, and any item published
within the last three months is tagged "new."
Once a document is retrieved, it can be further searched--for specific
types of therapies, for example, a feature made possible by the extensive
internal indexing of each article in the database.
Alternatively, the user can bypass the general index by clicking on
"Search." The user then types in his search question or command,
using normal conversational English. Searches can be limited to specific
journals or books, or widened to include the entire CIN website.
"No other cancer website organizes information in this way,"
Mr. Geffner said. "You don't have to make up the terms you want to
search; we provide you with the search terms already. And if you want to
type in your own search category, you can do so using plain English."
In addition, without having to reformulate or retype the search command,
the user can expand the search to include the entire Internet. And while
searching Medline or AIDSline, if the user is not satisfied that a search
has yielded sufficient information, he can go to the "Suggest"
menu, which is essentially a thesaurus that provides other possible terms
that might yield a more fruitful search.
When a user is interested only in a specific database or library of
information, a series of buttons at the bottom of every page allows instant
one-click access to the desired resource, for example, CancerLit, Medline,
PDQ, the NCCN proceedings, or journals or symposia from the CIN database.
Free to Health Professionals
The CIN website is free to health-care professionals. It is being supported
financially by unrestricted educational grants from pharmaceutical companies
and by limited advertisements. "There will be advertising, but it
will not be obtrusive. We will not overload the site with advertising,"
Mr. Gentile emphasized.
He also noted another important difference between CIN and other medical
websites. The majority of medical web-sites are open to everyone and are
designed primarily for patients and other nonprofessionals, while sites
aimed specifically at professionals are often restricted only to physicians.
CIN, in contrast, is designed specifically for professionals and is
available to all health professionals with an interest in cancer, such
as physicians, nurses, physician assistants, pharmacists, hospital administrators,
HMO administrators, and directors of nonprofit organizations.
There is a registration process by which the user gives his name; his
DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) number, if applicable; and year of graduation
from medical or nursing school. Pharmacists and other health profesionals
are asked to fax a request for access written on their facility's letterhead.
An Evolving Site
Both Mr. Gentile and Mr. Geffner stressed that CIN will be continually
evolving with a constantly updated database and many new features planned
for the near future. For example, by late spring of this year, CIN plans
to make available online discussion groups moderated by specialists in
the field. "These discussion groups will be disease and profession
specific, with separate groups for physicians, nurses, etc," Mr. Geffner
A further innovation, due in the next month, is a personal reference
page, "sort of a 'Best of the Web' area," Mr. Geffner said. This
service will provide quick access to directories of personal and business
phone numbers, e-mail addresses, a dictionary, and an encyclopedia, and
areas of special interest to travelers, such as weather reports, airline
and hotel reservations, and city maps.
The drug reference guide includes every antineoplastic agent available,
as well as agents used for treating the complications of cancer treatment
or the cancer itself, such as analgesics, antiemetics, and biologic modifiers,
Mr. Geffner said. Anti-infective agents will be added in the near future.
"This guide provides the full prescribing information for each
drug, but rewritten and organized in chart form to make it immediately
useful to clinicians," he said.
'Tremendous Surge' Expected
Mr. Gentile believes that the Internet is going to be "a prime
resource for physicians in the cancer management and treatment area."
He estimates that right now there are approximately 2,500 to 3,000 physicians
who use the Internet regularly to access cancer information, and he expects
there will be a "tremendous surge of users in the cancer field"
in the near future as Internet access becomes more widely available through
such innovations as WebTV, cable modems, and more powerful home computers.
"With the introduction of the CIN website, PRR, Inc. is situated
to play a vital role in meeting this informational need," Mr. Gentile
said. He added that he has no fears that electronic publishing will replace
written journals. "Rather, it will provide an electronic archive,"
he said, freeing physicians from the need to maintain old copies of journals
or filed articles.