Five percent of breast cancer websites have mistakes, with those involving alternative or complementary medicine the most likely to be misleading, US researchers reported on Monday.
But breast cancer information available on the Internet is more accurate than others carrying health information, the team at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Centre in the University of Texas School of Health Information Sciences at Houston found.
"Our current recommendation to patients is to be skeptical, make sure what patients read is applicable to their specific medical well-being and not to take action without consulting a clinician," said Dr Funda Meric-Bernstam, who led the study.
Writing in the journal Cancer, Meric-Bernstam and colleagues said they could not find an easy way to flag the inaccurate sites.
"Most consumers find online information by using general-purpose search engines rather than medical sites or portals, and most do not go beyond the first page of search results," her team wrote in the journal Cancer.
"Therefore, we used five popular search engines -- Google, Yahoo Directory, Alta-Vista, Overture, and AllTheWeb -- to identify Web pages that consumers are likely to encounter."
They examined 343 Web pages and found one in 20 had inaccuracies. They found 41 inaccurate statements on 18 of the Web sites, or 5.2 percent of sites.
Those displaying complementary and alternative medicine were 15 times more likely to contain false or misleading health information, they reported.
Meric-Bernstam said breast cancer patients often came to her well-informed, which is a good thing. "In contrast, there are times patients read about treatments that clearly do not apply to them, which can increase their level of anxiety or expectations for a treatment that they are not a candidate for," she said in a statement.