Online cancer info often too complicated for patients

The readability of most websites that describe prostate cancer treatment options is too complicated for at least one-third of Americans, according to a study published this month in the Journal of Urology.

Researchers from Loyola University Medical Center in Proviso, Ill., determined the three most popular sets keywords related to the disease--"prostate cancer," "prostate cancer treatment" and "prostatectomy"-- out of more than 500 terms. They then identified 62 websites by searching for those terms on Google, Yahoo and Bing, and used a Flesch-Kincaid test to determine the readability of the sites on a grade level scale.

Of those 62 sites, only three were written below a high school reading level. Roughly 90 million American adults read below a high school reading level, the researchers pointed out. None of the sites identified by the researchers were written at a fourth-through-six grade level, the level recommended by the National Institutes of Health.

Meanwhile, close to two-thirds of the sites examined--63 percent--were written above a 12th grade reading level.

"It was discouraging to find that only 4.8 percent of these sites had information written for those below a high school reading level," lead author Gopal Gupta, M.D., said in a statement. "Given that nearly one-third of the U.S. population reads below high school level, this raises concern that many patients will have difficulty comprehending online information about prostate cancer treatment options."

Aside from readability, reliability has been a question mark for many healthcare related sites. Research presented last week at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference and Exhibition in New Orleans found that academic websites tend to provide the best information about pediatric orthopedics, while commercial sites are the least reliable. For that study, a total of 98 websites--33 academic, 30 commercial and 31 nonprofit--were examined.

To learn more:
- here's the Journal of Urology study's abstract
- read the accompanying announcement

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