According to a new study, tumor test, genetic risk analyses, and other products or services sold online as personalized cancer medicine are usually not backed by evidence.
Researchers assert that the websites advertising products or advice also tend to promote the benefits of their services far more often than they note the limitations.
It is difficult to know which sites are ones that are marketing tests that are truly helpful versus sites that market tests or services that aren’t helpful.
Knowing that these sites are becoming a problem researchers wanted to better understand the internet marketing landscape to see what patients may encounter online.
Studies over the past years have also depicted exaggerated claims that don’t match scientific evidence in other contexts.
“Personal cancer medicine” on the internet includes analysis of tumor tissues as well as testing for cancer risk.
Although researchers believe that tests or inherited risk for developing certain cancers have the potential to significantly improve treatment, because these tests are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, some of the products advertised don’t have any proven benefits.
Researchers screened almost 5,000 websites by using search terms like “personalized cancer medicine,” “individualized cancer treatment,” or “targeted cancer care” on Google, Yahoo and Bing. They then focused on the top 55 websites that matched their criteria for the study.
The websites were either commercially sponsored, 56%, academic institutions, 20%, private institutions, 15% and individual doctors, 2%.
The research showed that a minority of websites, 28% sold tests that an expert panel would actually endorse.
Half of the commercial websites included test prices, 85% of the websites described the benefits of their products while only 27% specified potential limitations.
It is very difficult to measure the quality of the websites because they are so different from each other. However, some of the information could violate federal health regulations.