33% of popular cancer treatment articles contain misinformation, study finds

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More than one-third of commonly read cancer treatment articles on social media contain misinformation that could potentially harm patients' treatment quality and chances of survival, according to research published July 22 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 

Researchers from the University of Utah's Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City reviewed the claims in 200 of the most popular cancer-related articles on social media. The articles analyzed mainly focused on breast, prostate, lung and colorectal cancers. 

Of the 200 articles analyzed, 32.5 percent percent contained misinformation. Of those, the majority had information that could negatively influence patient outcomes. Further, misinformative articles attracted more attention and engagement than evidence-based articles. 

The research team, led by Skylar Johnson, MD, a physician-scientist at Huntsman, included medical experts from areas in cancer care, health outcomes and communications. Dr. Johnson said he had noticed a trend of cancer patients asking questions about articles they saw on social media, sparking the idea for the study.

"We must address these issues head on," Dr. Johnson said. "As a medical community, we can't ignore the problem of cancer misinformation on social media or ask our patients to ignore it. We must empathize with them and help them when they encounter this type of information."

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