False medical news, a scientist’s opinion
Interview with Dr. Skyler Johnson, Radiation oncologist, Assistant Professor, School of Medicine, University of Utah.
In your opinion, why is it dangerous to spread false medical news on cancer?
Cancer patients often find themselves in a vulnerable, life-threatening situation. Fake medical news on cancer could possibly persuade these patients to make decisions that could lead to earlier death, especially if they forego conventional cancer treatments.
How could/should the general public be educated about the recognition of false health news, and how awareness could be raised on the misinformation about cancer cures spreading over social media platforms?
I would advise the general public like I do my patients, by telling them that unfortunately, if you read it online and it sounds too good to be true it often is. I remind them where trusted resources can be found including reputable websites, particularly those that are associated with the domains ‘.edu’ or ‘.org.’
By which measures would you encourage patients to follow conventional cancer therapy as opposed to complementary medicine cure?
It’s important to establish trust with patients and to listen to their goals and hopes for the future. Often, it becomes clear that physicians and patients have similar goals, which is to cure the cancer and to not impact their quality of life significantly. Once it becomes clear that we share similar goals and that we are on the same team, we can discuss the best possible ways to achieve these goals. These discussions are best had without pretense or judgement. If patients want to incorporate an unproven cancer treatment method, we discuss it as best we can with the limited evidence that we have available, including a discussion on the known benefits and risks. We will generally encourage a patient to pursue complementary therapies that may improve their subjective symptoms including meditation, exercise, yoga, etc.