Cancer: Online Help

CBS News is taking a closer look at how we're all dealing with cancer in a special series called "Cancer: Cures, Costs and Controversies," and I was asked to look into sites online that offer some guidance. With its convenience and breadth it's the first place many of us might turn. But when you type the word "cancer" into a search engine like Google you get more than 250 million results. It's enough to make you drop the mouse. Plus, there's plenty of misinformation out there. So where do you turn online? Well, both the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute give you details on virtually every variety of the disease. There are glossaries, tips, statistics and lots of options for treatment.

Let's say you want to find the best hospital in your area? At the American Cancer Society, click on "making treatment decisions" under "Managing Your Cancer Experience," then click "treatment centers." Put in your zip code and click "go."

Clinical trials can be found on both sites, too. At the National Cancer Institute go to "clinical trials," and the type of cancer, insert specifics about your case and click on the trial that interests you. It'll also ask you how far you're willing to travel to participate.

What if a potential cancer symptom has got you worried? CBS News healthcare partner WebMD offers a "symptom checker." Click on your area of concern, then your symptoms, and WebMD will offer you possible causes -- to of course discuss with your doctor.

The Internet also goes beyond facts and figures by bringing people together. At the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center site, if you click on "support programs" and then "online support," you can participate in discussion groups. For example, one woman wrote she wasn't sure how to keep up a good rapport with her sister after she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She said her sister often got irritated when she kept asking about how she felt. Cancer is a difficult subject to tackle for any family, and simply finding a way to keep some of life's normalcy intact can be extremely challenging. Someone responded on the message board by saying what worked in their case was just chatting about the mundane stuff, like where to go for lunch that day or distracting them with some humor.

Others tackling cancer take it a step further by really exposing themselves in an online environment. Leroy Sievers is a commentator for National Public Radio, and when he discovered that cancer had re-appeared in his brain and lungs in late 2005 he decided to blog and podcast about everything from his chemotherapy treatments to dealing with his situation and fighting back.

"Web sites provide a safe place to talk about cancer, where you can say out loud what you can't say to friends and family," Sievers told us, adding that recent tests show the cancer appears to have been removed from his body.

It's all part of connecting in a virtual world to help beat a very real disease.

(Incidentally, the Web has plenty of information on alternative therapies for cancer, too, including the Cancer Treatment Center of America and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.)