Truth Science Verses Junk Science: How to Tell the Difference and Why it is Important
As a Registered Dietitian who is a Certified Specialist in Oncology Nutrition, I am often the key member of the healthcare team who teaches patients how to search for safe and sound nutrition and health information. In doing so, I am able to educate them on the importance of identifying truthful, scientific information from the wealth of misleading misinformation available to today’s lung cancer patients and their families.
What exactly makes a study or article “evidence-based” and why is this important?
Evidence-based practice is a way of conducting clinical care in which a doctor or other health professional will treat their patients using a combination of experience, knowledge, and information from the most up-to-date, reliable research studies. Evidence-based treatment is the primary treatment protocol in Western medicine and is considered the safest, most efficacious method of treating illness. Treatments based on hearsay and anecdotes, and for which there is no evidence of efficacy or safety, are generally not advised, as they can be ineffective and pose risk to health and well-being. When evaluating a method of treatment of care, it is important that your provider adhere to the current evidence-based standards.
Your provider may also suggest participation in a clinical trial, through which your participation will be able to strengthen the evidence available for certain treatments for your particular disease stage. When seeking clinical trials on your own, it is important to search using a reputable source such as Clinicaltrials.gov, a service of the National Institutes of Health or LUNGevity's Lung Cancer Clinical Trial Matching Service, which provides one-on-one support in navigating the clinical trial options.
How can you tell the difference between the experts and the quacks?
In the same way that your medical team analyze and critically judge what they read and prescribe, lung cancer patients should also seek information that is from an evidenced-based source. Remember to always consult with your medical team before using any evidenced-based information to make changes in your diet or lifestyle. It is important to know what to look for and where to start. First and foremost, guard against questionable claims by brushing up on basic health and nutrition information. Becoming familiar with government health websites such as the National Cancer Institute and the USDA’s MyPlate can help you to more quickly spot inaccuracies when you are reading elsewhere. Whether the information is coming from a magazine, television program, or online, there are certain key factors to keep in mind:
- Look or listen for the source of health claims. Be critical of diet book authors, supplement companies, and other for-profit sources promoting their products, or of data presented with no author.
- When evaluating research studies, read through the entire article. Critical details of the study may not be included in the summary, or abstract. Look at the length of time of the study, as well as the number and type of participants: studies conducted for longer periods of time are considered more reliable than shorter studies, studies based on larger numbers of people are considered more reliable and meaningful, and studies based on animal or cell culture studies are not as strong as those with human subjects. Be sure that the research has been carried out by a reputable, unbiased institution, and that the authors discuss any weaknesses of the study.
- When evaluating online information, carefully consider the source. Websites ending in .gov, .edu, or .org indicate nonprofit organizations. When exploring for-profit websites, ending in .com or .biz, be sure to look for information about the author and sponsor.
- Make sure that research referenced on a website has been updated recently, and that it does not include old or non-functioning links. All research studies should be published in an outside academic journal or website with a working link, rather than self-published by the sponsors.
- When shopping, be on the lookout for “red flags” such as a product promising a quick fix, guarantees based on little to no actual research, research paid for by a biased sponsor, or any warnings of health-threatening side effects. Many supplements are not required to be tested for safety and effectiveness by the Food and Drug Administration, so always consult a health professional before beginning any regimen.
- Ask questions and for the advice of your health care team when evaluating studies. Their input is essential to assessing whether or not to pursue taking supplements.
In summary, today’s lung cancer patients need to be aware of the importance of evidence-based medicine and how to accurately recognize it when seeking information about lung cancer treatment. Speak openly with your oncology team before implementing outside information that appears beneficial. If you find information from a reputable source that you feel has a legitimate claim or benefit, you and your healthcare team can make the best decision that meets your needs and is compatible with your treatment plan.
- Manchikanti, Laxmaiah. “Evidence-Based Medicine, Systematic Reviews, and Guidelines in Interventional Pain Management, Part I: Introduction and General Considerations.” Pain Physician. 2008;11;161-186.
- Duyff R. L. The American Dietetic Association’s Complete Food and Nutrition Guide.(2nd edition) New York: John Wiley; 2002.
- American Dietetic Association, Nutrition and You: Trends 2002, Final report of findings, October 2002, available online at http://www.eatright.org/images/pr/trends02findings.pdf
- American Council on Science and Health, Nutrition Accuracy in Popular Magazines 2002, available online at http://www.ACSH.org
- University of California-Berkeley, Evaluating Web Pages, Joe Barker, 2005 available online at http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/TeachingLib/Guides/Internet/Evaluate.html
- American Dietetic Association Daily Tip February 15, 2005 available online at http://eatright.org/ <http://jn.nutrition.org/content/133/11/3794S.full>.