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Friday, 28 December, 2001, 00:03 GMT
Skin cancer websites 'misleading'
melanoma
A malignant melanoma
Many popular websites carrying information about the most dangerous form of skin cancer are inaccurate, says a survey.

Researchers writing in the Journal of Clinical Oncology say doctors should be prepared to point web-using patients towards the best sites.

More people than ever are searching the web for information after being diagnosed with cancer.

However, the researchers say that many sites contain incomplete information, which they say could increase the anxiety felt by patients.

Christopher Bichakjian, a lecturer in dermatology, said: "No-one expects every website on a given topic to include every bit of information available, but the lack of even basic preventive, diagnostic, treatment and risk factor data on so many sites amazed us.

Search engines

"The fact that this kind of skin cancer, malignant melanoma, so often strikes young adults, who might be most likely to turn to the internet for medical information, gives website quality of even more importance."

Researchers conducted the study simply by typing melanoma into six of the most popular search engines, and two medical search engines.

They found 74 websites which contained information about the condition, and assessed whether they carried any of 35 different "gold standard" pieces of information, from basic definitions and incidence rates to specific risk factors and options for treatment.

At least half the sites contained only eight of these pieces of information.

False information

One in eight sites contained incorrect information - some minor, but some potentially dangerous.

Professor Timothy Johnson, director of the University of Michigan's melanoma clinic, who co-authored the study, said: "Some sites recommended unnecessary tests and more invasive, unnecessary surgery."

Only just over half the sites listed the signs and symptoms of melanoma, despite the fact that it can be easily visible on the skin's surface.

Few also carried information on the importance of keeping out of the sun, or wearing sunscreen or clothing to protect the skin.

Skin cancers of all types are among the most common cancers in humans - although melanomas make up only a small proportion of these.

Melanoma is dangerous because it is more likely to spread to other parts of the body than other skin cancers, making it harder to treat.

See also:

20 Sep 01 | Health
Childhood sunburn melanoma risk
21 May 01 | Health
Deadly virus 'wipes out tumours'
17 Mar 00 | C-D
Skin cancers
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