Taking Your Breast Cancer Info Search Online

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • One of the first things many of you probably did when you were diagnosed with breast cancer was to turn on your computer, connect to the Internet, and Google or Yahoo! or (name your search engine of choice) the words “breast cancer.” At which point you were met with more results than you really needed: according to Yahoo!’s search box, there are over 48 million places online you can click on to learn about breast cancer. Whew– start scrolling!

    Well, we all know that many-–perhaps the majority–-of these links lead to a single mention of the words “breast cancer,” or to a site that simply wants to attract women, for whatever reason, and thus sprinkles their content (in obscure places) with the words “breast cancer” in order to appear in search results. With the vast number of places a woman COULD click, where should she start?
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    First, not necessarily at the top. Every search engine I know accepts paid advertising, and those results will be at the top of the long list of entries running down the left-hand side of your screen; and/or in a narrow column at the right. There’ll be some written indication (“sponsored links,” “sponsored results”) that these links have been bought and paid for, their prominent position on your screen guaranteed by money having changed hands between the site, and the search engine.

    Now, I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad thing; don’t discount these sites, just because they paid for their space. The American Cancer Society, National Cancer Institute/National Institutes for Health, the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, all have paid for space on one search engine or another. If a company, or government institute, or hospital wants to ensure their particular message reaches the greatest number of readers, they pay for it.

    But, there are other entities that pay for their position that might not contain quite as much useful information as you want. Drug companies will often buy space to promote their particular cancer drugs; more power to them, they have to recoup their development costs, but in general you won’t be telling your doctor what medicine you’d like to take; he or she will be telling you. And many businesses selling cancer-related gear, from pink ribbons to prostheses, will appear on that opening page. Again, good to know they’re there, but maybe that information’s not what you want right at the moment, when you’re trying to research statistics for survival rates for your particular cancer. What’s the best way to find what you’re looking for?

    Your best bet is to try to narrow your search. Maybe you’re looking for information about your particular type and stage of cancer, how “serious” it is. (We all do that, don’t we? Why do we believe the weatherman when he says it’s going to rain tomorrow, but we don’t quite believe our doctor when he tells us our prognosis is pretty good?) To narrow the results, type in your type and/or stage of breast cancer, rather than the words “breast cancer”: for instance, stage 2 invasive lobular, or ductal carcinoma in situ. This will narrow the results by about 99%, and in the process will most likely eliminate most of (or all) the paid sponsor results. Being specific in your search terms means you’ll get a much more targeted result.

  • Another thing to keep in mind when you’re looking for information online: not everything you’ll read is accurate or true. My advice? Pick a few comprehensive, trustworthy sites (the one you’re on right now, for instance), and bookmark them. Oftentimes sites whose suffix is .org or .gov are good bets; .org means the site is a non-profit, while .gov denotes that it’s a U.S. government site. That way, when you’re roaming cyberspace at 2 a.m., beset by hot flashes and looking for anything you can find out about how to stop the darned things, you’ll know that the information you find is probably accurate and, therefore, actionable.
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    Happy searching!

Published On: March 04, 2007