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Online Breast Cancer Info Fairly Accurate

Quality indicators, Web site characteristics not useful in identifying inaccurate information

THURSDAY, Feb. 14 (HealthDay News) -- Consumers who look online for information about breast cancer are likely to find accurate materials, but the commonly recommended quality criteria aren't helpful for pointing out inaccurate information, according to research published online Feb. 11 in the journal Cancer.

Elmer V. Bernstam, M.D., of the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, and colleagues posed common breast cancer-related queries on five often-used Internet search engines. They then assessed 343 resulting Web pages using 15 quality criteria (such as identification of authors credentials, provision of references and identification of editorial review process) and three characteristics (sponsored or non-sponsored link, search engine used and domain extension).

The investigators only found inaccurate statements on 5.2 percent of the pages. None of the quality criteria or Web site characteristics reliably identified inaccurate information. However, pages offering information on complementary and alternative medicine were far more likely to contain inaccuracies (odds ratio 15.6) compared to those without this type of information.

"Consumers who consult the Internet for information about breast cancer are likely to find accurate answers to their questions. However, they should be encouraged to maintain a healthy level of skepticism of online health information, consider the reputation of the source, and consult an appropriate clinician before taking action," the authors conclude.

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