Cancer charity appoints 'fake news' nurse to work full-time fighting misinformation online

Macmillan Cancer Support hopes to stop patients turning to unverified websites or being distressed by bogus cures

Graeme Murray
Monday 30 October 2017 01:00
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More than a third of people in Scotland with cancer look up information about their diagnosis online
More than a third of people in Scotland with cancer look up information about their diagnosis online

A cancer charity has appointed its first digital nurse to combat online “fake news” about the disease.

Macmillan Cancer Support fears patients are turning to unverified websites for information that leaves them needlessly frightened and at risk of bogus cures.

The charity points to one online search that brings up a website claiming chemotherapy is a bigger killer than cancer itself, while another site reports that baking soda can cure breast cancer.

Ellen McPake will be dedicated to answering questions from people affected by cancer online, on Macmillan’s social platforms and online community.

Her appointment comes as Macmillan research, conducted by YouGov, found 37 per cent of people in Scotland with cancer looked up information about their diagnosis online.

An estimated 3,450 people, or 4 per cent of Scottish cancer patients, who looked online for information thought they were going to die.

Janice Preston, head of Macmillan in Scotland, said: “It’s understandable that people go online to look up their diagnosis, but it’s vital they get information from reliable sources.

“As well as fantastic information and support, the web is full of unverified statistics, fake news and horror stories that can cause people unnecessary worry and distress.

“It’s important people have access to trusted information online and know how to separate websites that are accurate and reputable from those with incorrect or even dangerous information.

“We hope our new digital nurse will help people who want to find answers online. She will be there to answer questions from people across the UK about cancer and make sure they get the information they desperately need.”

The charity is concerned some patients look online because they are leaving appointments without the information they need.

Headteacher Kay Robertson, 51, used the internet extensively to find information about her illness, after being diagnosed with liver cancer in March 2014.

The mother-of-two said: “I Googled everything, all the way through my cancer. I was lucky that I had a fantastic consultant and a Macmillan nurse who explained things really well, but there was always something I needed to look up.

“Everyone is just so used to getting information instantly now that going online is inevitable.

“There is so much false information out there. I was careful to only look at websites I knew I could trust like Macmillan or the NHS.”

Ms McPake said: “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.

“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.”

PA

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