Q. I've just been diagnosed with cancer. How can I get information to help me make treatment decisions?

A.

There is a great deal of information about cancer and cancer treatments, especially online. The challenges are how to find and evaluate information to make sure it is reliable, up-to-date, trustworthy and appropriate to your diagnosis and situation. For cancer information, I recommend contacting The National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Information Service (CIS) to speak with an information specialist through a LiveHelp option or by calling 1-800-4-CANCER.

To help you evaluate online information, keep these questions in mind:

  • What is the purpose of the website? Is it educational or commercial—that is, is the site trying to sell you a product or service?
  • What is the source of the information?
  • Is the information evidence-based—that is, based on scientific research?
  • Does the website provide contact information for individuals who are responsible for its content?
  • Are the links relevant and appropriate for the site?

Once you have information, the next challenge is how to make sense of it. Ultimately, your doctor and health care team are best able to help you interpret information. Identify someone on the health care team you are comfortable talking to. Then:

  • Write down your questions before your doctor visit
  • Ask questions if you don’t understand what the doctor says
  • Take notes and if possible, bring someone with you who can assist you

Interpreting medical tests requires that you consult with your health care team. Make sure you ask for copies of lab tests, biopsy results, X-Rays, ultrasounds, CAT and PET scans, or MRIs. Schedule time with your doctor and health care team to review all test results, and their implications for your treatment and care.

CancerCare has a number of publications that offer practical tips: