Wikipedia Accurate on Cancer Facts, But Hard to Read:
THURSDAY, Sept. 15 (HealthDay News) -- The facts about cancer
found on the website Wikipedia are about as accurate as the
information on the disease found on the patient-oriented section of
the U.S. National Cancer Institute's Physician Data Query (PDQ), a
comprehensive peer-reviewed cancer database, according to a new
Although experts from Thomas Jefferson University were
hard-pressed to find errors on Wikipedia, they did find the content
on the site was harder to read and included links to more dense
information than the simplified, shorter explanations found on
"There are a vast number of websites where patients can obtain cancer information," study leader Dr. Yaacov Lawrence, adjunct assistant professor of radiation oncology at Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University, and director of the Center for Translational Research in Radiation Oncology at the Sheba Medical Center in Israel, said in a university news release.
"The purpose of this study was to answer one question: Is the cancer information on Wikipedia correct? Reassuringly, we found that errors were extremely rare on Wikipedia. But the way information was presented on PDQ is more patient-friendly," Lawrence said.
Wikipedia is commonly not considered a trustworthy source of
information since the writers -- whether amateur journalists or
medical specialists -- develop the content found on the site
without professional oversight. Nevertheless, the study found the
site ranked among the top 10 results for more search engines,
higher than the PDQ and professionally maintained government
websites. The study authors also pointed out that Wikipedia updates
In conducting the study, researchers chose 10 types of cancer
and compared the information on the diseases' epidemiology,
etiology, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment and controversial topics
in cancer care found on Wikipedia with the information found on
PDQ. The content on both sites were vetted for accuracy against
The investigators also used standard algorithms based on word
and sentence length to calculate the information's readability.
The study, released online in advance of print publication in
Journal of Oncology Practice, revealed that less than 2 percent of the information on either Wikipedia or PDQ did not coincide with the facts found in textbooks. The researchers found the information on the two websites were equally comprehensive. They also noted both sites discussed controversial aspects of cancer care poorly.
The main difference between Wikipedia and the PDQ site was their
readability. Wikipedia was written at a college level, while PDQ
was written so that a 9th grader could understand it.
"PDQ's readability is doubtless due to the site's professional editing, whereas Wikipedia's lack of readability may reflect its varied origins and haphazard editing," explained Lawrence. "Overall our results are reassuring: on the one hand Wikipedia appears to be extremely accurate, on the other, the resources invested in the creation and upkeep of the PDQ are clearly justified."
The study authors recommend that patients use the PDQ site first
so they are not inundated by complex information and hyperlinks.
They added that more research is needed to determine how the
differences in readability of these sites affects patients'
understanding and retention of information about the disease.
The American Cancer Society provides more information on
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