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Charity appoints nurse to help patients avoid ‘fake news’ about cancer on the web

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Macmillan has appointed its first “digital nurse specialist” to help ensure people can get accurate online information about cancer.

The charity said it had created the role because cancer patients were increasingly googling their diagnosis, leaving them “needlessly frightened and at risk of bogus cures”.

“I’m there to make sure people affected by cancer have a real person they can turn to online”

Ellen McPake

It maintained there had been a surge in demand for online information about cancer diagnosis and treatment because some patients were coming away from appointments without all the information they needed.

They were then turning to the internet for answers but often ended up on unverified sites offering inaccurate and misleading information, noted the charity.

For example, it highlighted that one internet search brought up a website that said chemotherapy was a bigger killer than cancer, while another site claimed that baking soda could cure breast cancer.

“Ending up on the wrong website can be really worrying”

Jane Maher

Macmillan’s new “digi nurse” Ellen McPake will be solely dedicated to answering questions from people affected by cancer on the charity’s social media platforms and online community.

“As more and more people seek information about their cancer online, we want them to know that charities like Macmillan are able to offer reliable health advice,” she explained.

“In my new role, I’m there to make sure people affected by cancer have a real person they can turn to online for information about their symptoms, cancer diagnosis and treatment,” she said.

Research commissioned by Macmillan found 42% of people who were informed they had cancer had looked up information about their diagnosis online.

Macmillan Cancer Support

Charity appoints nurse to combat ‘fake news’ about cancer

Ellen McPake

The survey of more than 2,000 people, carried out by YouGov in March this year, found one in eight – 13% – said they went online because they did not fully understand what they had been told.

Meanwhile, 6% thought they were going to die after looking up information about their disease on the internet.

Macmillan said it accepted the internet was a key tool for cancer patients to get information about their diagnosis, treatment options and support.

However, the charity added it was vital people had access to trusted information online and could “separate the wheat from the chaff”.

As well as launching the new nurse role, it is calling for more training for health professionals to help them advise patients on reliable sources of digital information.

“It’s completely natural for people to want to Google their diagnosis when they’re told they have cancer,” said Professor Jane Maher, joint chief medical officer at Macmillan Cancer Support.

“But with countless unverified statistics, fake news and horror stories on the internet, ending up on the wrong website can be really worrying,” she said. “This can leave people pinning their hopes on a dangerous bogus cure or underestimating the benefit of routine treatments.

Macmillan Cancer Support

Advise relatives to help cancer patients ‘get active’

Jane Maher

“When someone learns they have cancer, it’s really important that healthcare professionals fully explain what their diagnosis means and the support available to them,” said Professor Maher.

She added: “They should also be able signpost their patients to trusted sources online so they aren’t left open to incorrect or misleading information.”

In addition, Macmillan has just launched a new dedicated webpage for primary care, which includes practical tools and resources to help GPs and practice nurses signpost their patients to support.


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