Pancreatic Cancer Resources Available Online Inaccurate and Difficult to Read

Online materials about pancreatic cancer may lack accurate information about alternative therapy and be too complicated to benefit patients with the disease, claims a recent study.

The readability and accuracy of online resources are especially important for resources aimed at informing patients with cancer, as flawed content can confuse readers and adversely affect outcomes. Currently, literacy specialists and national institutions recommend that health-related materials be written at the sixth- to seventh-grade reading level in order to maximize patients’ ability to easily understand information.

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In a study published in JAMA Surgery, researchers led by Tara Kent, MD, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (Boston, MA), compared the readability and accuracy of patient-oriented online resources for pancreatic cancer by looking at treatment methods and website affiliation.

A total of 50 websites discussing 5 different treatments for pancreatic cancer (alternative therapy, chemotherapy, clinical trials, radiation therapy, and surgery) were included in the analysis. The readability of each site and method was measured using 9 standardized tests while an expert panel comprised of 2 medical specialists and 2 surgical specialists determined their accuracy using a 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest) scale.

Overall, researchers found that websites differed in accuracy and readability based on the topics they addressed. Those discussing surgery (median readability level, 13.7; interquartile range [IQR], 11.9-15.6) were easier to read than those discussing radiotherapy (15.2; 13.0-17.0) and clinical trials (15.2; 12.8-17.0). And websites of nonprofit organizations (12.9; 11.2-15.0) were generally easier to read than those of media (16.0; 13.4-17.0), academic, (14.8; 12.9-17.0) or private institutions (14.0; 12.1-16.1).

In terms of accuracy, government websites were the most accurate (median score of 5; IQR, 4-5) followed closely by nonprofit (4; 4-5) and academic sites (4; 3.5-5). Privately owned (3.5; 1.5-4) and media websites (4; 2-4) had the lowest accuracy scores. Websites focused on alternative therapy generally had the lowest accuracy scores, and websites with high accuracy scores also tended to be the most difficult to read.

From these results, researchers concluded that many online resources on pancreatic cancer may not be helpful for patients. Therefore, physicians should provide guidance to their patients in the selection of online resources with readable and accurate information.