Digital Cancer Nurse Hired To Combat ‘Fake News’ And Misinformation Online

A leading cancer charity has appointed a digital nurse to combat ‘fake news’, after statistics revealed roughly 60,000 Brits with cancer thought they were going to die after looking up information about their disease online.

Macmillan Cancer Support, which created the role, said patients are coming away from appointments without the information they need and are turning to unverified internet sites which leave them needlessly frightened and at risk of ‘bogus cures’.

The charity said one internet search brought up a website suggesting chemotherapy is a bigger killer than cancer itself, while another site reported that baking soda could cure breast cancer.

Ellen McPake, Macmillan's new digital nurse

Macmillan’s new digital nurse specialist Ellen McPake will be dedicated to answering questions from people affected by cancer online, on social media and through the charity’s Online Community.

She said of the 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.”

The position was created in response to a growing demand for online information about cancer diagnosis and treatment, after research conducted by YouGov in partnership with Macmillan Cancer Support discovered:

:: Over two fifths (42%) of people with cancer looked up information about their diagnosis online.

:: Of those, one in eight (13%) people said they went online because they didn’t fully understand what they had been told about their cancer.

:: An estimated 60,000 (6%) Brits with cancer thought they were going to die after looking up information about their disease online.

Macmillan said the internet is a vital tool for cancer patients to get information about their diagnosis, treatment options and support, but added it’s important that people have access to trusted information online rather than incorrect or potentially dangerous information.

Professor Jane Maher, joint chief medical officer at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “It’s completely natural for people to want to Google their diagnosis when they’re told they have cancer. But with countless unverified statistics, fake news and horror stories on the internet, ending up on the wrong website can be really worrying. This can leave people pinning their hopes on a dangerous bogus cure or underestimating the benefit of routine treatments.

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

Kerry Fleming’s son Kane, 14, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2016. The 42-year-old mum from South Yorkshire said: “I had a million different questions running around my head and no one to answer them for me. That’s why I searched online. All I could think was that I needed answers. I wanted to be proactive, but was helpless and lost. 

“I confused myself by looking at different sites. One article told me Kane’s cancer was highly treatable, another said there was a high chance of reoccurrence, another said radiotherapy.

“Every article contradicted the other. I made myself ill through the stress of it all.

“Having someone to answer my questions and to tell me we weren’t alone and to point me to trusted sites would have really helped.”