Seal of approval scheme needed for complementary and alternative websites

Complementary medicine researchers are urging major cancer organisations and other impartial interest groups to investigate websites offering complementary and alternative medical advice on cancer, and to create and administer a 'seal of approval' for their safety and reliability.

The call comes after their analysis of 32 English-language websites showed that the information provided was of extremely variable quality, that many endorsed unproven therapies and some were even dangerous.

In a paper published today in Annals of Oncology[1], researchers from the Plymouth Peninsula Medical School in the UK said that their survey findings were somewhat reassuring as most of the evaluated websites did provide valuable and reliable information, especially for the prevention of cancer, and most were of medium quality.

However, some issued information on complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) that was misleading. "These websites promoted and discussed CAM treatments for which no compelling safety and efficacy data exist," said Professor Edzard Ernst, Professor of Complementary Medicine. "Generally speaking, the 'cancer cures' discussed on these websites are not supported by good scientific evidence. Other sites are outright dangerous as they advise patients against using conventional therapies."

He said that it was not the intention to deny that cancer patients can feel empowered and be supported by accessing health information on the internet. But, 600 million people worldwide currently access the Internet and public awareness needed raising about the usefulness of the information. The content of some websites also required further evaluation.

The survey, by Professor Ernst and colleague Ms Katja Schmidt, evaluated 32 of the most popular websites appearing on eight commonly used search engines between December 2002 and January 2003 and awarded them points on a scale from 0 to 14. The objective was to assess the quali

Contact: Margaret Willson
European Society for Medical Oncology

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