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How to research cancer

If you or a loved one has cancer, you will want to know all you can about the disease. You may wonder where to start. What are the most up-to-date, reliable sources for information about cancer?

The guidelines below can help you learn all you can about cancer. That way, you can make well-informed choices about your cancer care.

Start With Your Cancer Care Team

Start by talking with your cancer care team. Each cancer is different and each person is different. Your providers know you, so the type of care you receive will be based on what is best for you and your situation.

Talk about your options with your team. You can find information on the website of your cancer center or hospital. Many hospital web sites have a variety of resources:

  • Health libraries
  • Print and online newsletters and magazines
  • Blogs
  • Classes and seminars focused on issues related to having cancer
  • Information about clinical trials going on at your cancer center or hospital

You should also talk with other cancer care providers. It is a good idea to get input from more than one doctor when faced with serious illness. Talk with your provider about getting a second opinion before making major health decisions.

Explore Trusted Institutions

For more in-depth information, look to government sources and medical associations. They provide research-based, up-to-date information about all types of cancer. Here are several to start with:

National Cancer Institute -- www.cancer.gov. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The NCI has several functions:

  • Supports and conducts cancer research
  • Collects, analyzes, and shares the results of cancer research
  • Provides training in cancer diagnosis and treatment

You can find current, in-depth information on:

  • All types of cancer
  • Risk factors and prevention
  • Diagnosis and treatment
  • Clinical trials
  • Support, coping, and resources

The NCI creates PDQ (trademark) cancer information summaries. These are comprehensive, evidence-based summaries on topics that cover cancer treatment, supportive and palliative care, screening, prevention, genetics, and integrated medicine.

American Cancer Society -- www.cancer.org. The American Cancer Society (ACS) is a nonprofit national organization that:

  • Raises money and conducts cancer research
  • Provides up-to-date information to people with cancer and their families
  • Offers community programs and services, such as Rides to Treatment, lodging, and hair loss and mastectomy products
  • Provides emotional support through online forums and classes
  • Connects patients one-on-one with volunteers who are also cancer survivors
  • Works with lawmakers to pass laws that help people with cancer

American Society of Clinical Oncology -- www.cancer.net. Cancer.net is run by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, a professional organization of clinical oncologists (cancer doctors). The site offers information on:

  • Different types of cancer
  • How to manage cancer care
  • Coping and support
  • Cancer research and advocacy

Clinical Trials.gov. The NIH runs this service. The site provides information on clinical trials across the U.S. You can find out:

  • What a clinical trial is
  • How to find clinical trials in your area, listed by topic or map
  • How to search for studies and use search results
  • How to find study results

National Comprehensive Cancer Network Patient and Caregiver Resources -- www.nccn.org/patients/about/default.aspx. The NCCN provides patients and their caregivers:

  • Easy-to-understand information about cancer and cancer treatment
  • Easy-to-understand information about clinical guidelines for cancer care
  • Information on payment assistance
  • Information on clinical trials

To review more detailed guidelines meant for physicians who treat cancer, you can review NCCN Guidelines at www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/f_guidelines.asp.

You can see patient version of these guidelines at www.nccn.org/patients/default.aspx.

Use With Caution

It is important to know how to find health information you can trust. You should use some resources with care.

Online forums, chat rooms, and support groups. These sources can help you find ways to cope, share your stories, and get support. But remember that no two people are alike when it comes to cancer. Be careful not to draw conclusions about your cancer and how it will progress based on what happened to someone else. You should also never get medical advice from online sources.

Cancer studies. It can be interesting to read the latest study about a new cancer drug or treatment. Just do not read too much into a single study. New ways to diagnose, treat, and prevent cancer are only adopted after many years of research.

Integrative medicine (IM). Many people with cancer look for alternative therapies. Use care when reading about these remedies. Avoid sites that promise miracle cures. You can find trusted information at the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). The center is run by the NIH. It offers research-based information on IM at nccih.nih.gov/.

References

American Cancer Society. www.cancer.org. Accessed August 3, 2016.

American Society of Clinical Oncology. www.cancer.net. Accessed August 3, 2016.

Clinical Trials.gov. clinicaltrials.net. Accessed August 3, 2016.

National Cancer Institute. www.cancer.gov. Accessed August 3, 2016.

National Comprehensive Cancer Network Patient and Caregiver Resources. www.nccn.org/patients/default.aspx. Accessed August 3, 2016.

Review Date 10/13/2014

Updated by: Christine Zhang, MD, Medical Oncologist, Fresno, CA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team. Editorial update 11/29/2016.

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