• Macmillan Cancer Support has found that two-fifths of people with cancer look up information about their diagnosis on the internet. (Getty Images)
“Sometimes patients can get caught up in ‘media frenzies’ which claim they have found magical cures and end up believing them."
By
Alyssa Braithwaite

31 Oct 2017 - 4:05 PM  UPDATED 31 Oct 2017 - 4:05 PM

A UK cancer charity has appointed a nurse to combat dangerous myths and misinformation online about cancer treatment and diagnosis which can leave patients and their families "scared and at risk of bogus cures".

Macmillan Cancer Support has created the job in response to bad information from unverified websites, such as one which claims that chemotherapy is a bigger killer than cancer itself, and another which reports that baking soda can cure breast cancer. 

Research conducted for the charity by YouGov found that two-fifths of people with cancer looked up information about their diagnosis on the internet. 

One in eight of those people went online because they didn't completely understand what they had been told by their doctor.

Glaswegian nurse Ellen McPake has been appointed as Macmillan Cancer Support's Digital Nurse, to deal with questions on social media and online.

“Often when people are diagnosed with cancer they are shocked and don’t really absorb the information they have been given,” Ms McPake tells Digital Health News.

“So my role is to offer trusted advice online to not just those who have been diagnosed but for friends and relatives.

“Sometimes patients can get caught up in ‘media frenzies’ which claim they have found magical cures and end up believing them."

Ms McPake told the BBC that some of the other common myths around cancer include that sugar gives you cancer, that vitamin C cures cancer, that shark cartilage can be used to treat cancer because sharks don't get cancer, and that coffee enemas can help treat the disease. 

"We are not saying that people should not turn to the internet as it is a great tool, we just don’t want people to fall victim to these frenzies,” she says.

Professor Jane Maher, joint chief medical officer at Macmillan Cancer Support, says it's natural that people want to search online for more information when given a cancer diagnosis.

"But with countless unverified statistics, fake news and horror stories on the internet, ending up on the wrong website can be really worrying," she says.

"This can leave people pinning their hopes on a dangerous bogus cure or underestimating the benefit of routine treatments."

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