Quality Assessment of Online Complementary and Alternative Medicine Information Resources Relevant to Cancer

Integr Cancer Ther. 2021 Jan-Dec:20:15347354211066081. doi: 10.1177/15347354211066081.


Background: Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is often used by cancer patients and survivors in the US. Many people turn to the internet as their first source of information. Health information seeking through the internet can be useful for patients to gain a better understanding of specific CAM treatments to discuss with their healthcare team, but only if the information is comprehensive, high quality, and reliable. The aim of this article is to examine the content, writing/vetting processes, and visibility of cancer CAM online informational resources.

Methods: Online CAM resources were identified by Google and PubMed searches, literature reviews, and through sources listed on various websites. The websites were analyzed through a modified online health information evaluation tool, DISCERN (score range = 1-5). The website's features relevant to the quality assessment were described.

Results: Eleven CAM websites were chosen for analysis. The DISCERN analysis showed a range of quality scores from 3.6 to 4.9. Lower DISCERN scores were generally due to deficiencies in describing the writing, editing, and updating processes. A lack of transparency with authorship and references was commonly present.

Conclusion: Cancer patients interested in CAM need unbiased, evidence-based, reliable, high-quality, easily accessible educational materials. Individuals should use the guidelines followed in this analysis (including DISCERN and Medline Plus) to find reliable sources. Website developers can use CAM Cancer (NAFKAM), Beyond Conventional Cancer Therapies, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, breastcancer.org, Office of Dietary Supplements, National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, and Cancer.gov as models for trustworthy content.

Keywords: alternative therapies; complementary therapies; consumer health information; internet; quality assessment; quality assurance.

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms*
  • Complementary Therapies*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Information Seeking Behavior
  • Internet*
  • Survivors