Cancers are grouped and classified by the general public into areas of the body – like Lung cancer, breast cancer and brain cancer. However, the reality is far more complex. For example brain cancer can be divided into primary brain cancer or secondary brain cancer. Primary brain cancer can then be further divided into benign cancer or malignant cancer. This sub-division goes on and on. There are around 120 types of brain cancer widely recognized, but at a genetic and molecular level, the number of subtle variations is likely to push this number way higher. Without having these details and knowing exactly what and where to search on the internet, getting the correct information is incredibly challenging.
Even if you know exactly the cancer you have and are confident you can sift through plethora of webpages on the internet to find the information on that cancer, you then have the problem of finding information that is accurate and up to date. Search results from internet search engines often direct you blogs or forums. I have looked at some of the things written on these and was frankly quite shocked by the inaccuracies and scaremongering stories that were written. Low side effect cancer treatments are described as “grueling.” The words radiotherapy and burnt are often used in the same sentence. In some cases, I am sure the accounts I read had an element of truth, but in the vast majority of cases I see this is not the experience the patients have. Often these blogs and forums are covered in adverts and I can’t help but wonder if these sites have been written with the aim of gaining revenue from these, as opposed to actually giving accurate information to the public.
If you manage to get over these 2 significant hurdles and find a reputable site that gives information about your specific cancer, then it is strongly advised to use this information loosely. By this I mean that there are so many other factors that could play a significant role in your cancer treatment and prognosis. Your family history, any other ailments you may have and your age are but a few of the factors that will be considered by the team involved in your care. Also, be very careful if you read about ‘average survival.’ This figure is just a figure and does little more than scare people. I have patients that have read they will have only a few months to live and 8 years down the line are still going strong. Everybody is different and ‘averages’ in this context hold little meaning.
To get accurate information on your specific case, then absolute best thing to do is ask your cancer specialist. Write a list of questions and present them at your consultation. Take a friend or relative along as a second pair or ears. If your cancer specialist does not answer the questions you want the answers to, then you should consider getting a second opinion from another cancer specialist.