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5 Quick Questions to Ask Yourself to Help You Evaluate Health Information Shared by the News or Media

January 26, 2016

January XRAYS Blog

Have you ever seen a headline or read a story in the news or media with health information that made you wonder whether or not it was reliable?

If you said yes, you are not alone. Today, it can be hard to know what to believe. Headlines like, “How a Breast Cancer Gene May Affect Alzheimer’s” can be misleading. And often, stories are hyped up in order to get more eyeballs or start a conversation. In addition, thanks to our constant access to the Internet, there is a plethora of information available at all times. Sometimes you need to look at these studies with a critical eye.

To get you started, here are some questions you can ask to better decipher and evaluate health information you read, hear or see.

Ask yourself these 5 questions when looking at health information provided from the news or media:

  1. What is the message and meaning for the information?

Get to the facts, read between the lines, and move past the fluff. Often information is presented in a positive (glass half-full) or negative (glass half-empty) kind of manner. Also, when facts seem confusing, keep in mind that you might have been given incomplete or incorrect information.  Does the story seem different from the headline?  Look for the facts. 

  1. Is the source of the content reliable?

Think about the quality of the information and consider any biases the source that shared the information might have. Did they interview multiple experts in the field?  Is the report on a study published in a medical journal? 

  1. Does this information matter to me?

Everyone’s health history is different and not all stories apply to all people.  For example, if you are at high risk for breast cancer due to a mutation in BRCA or another gene that increases cancer risk, a study on women at average risk may not apply to you. Research can take many years and often happens in stages. Reports on new discoveries may be exciting but the science may be years away from changing medical practice.

  1. What else do I need to know?

Think about any information that might be missing and if you had more information, how might that affect your decision or opinion on the matter?  Don’t rely on the headline – headlines and content do not always match or make sense.

  1. Where can I find more credible health-related information?

Always talk to your health care provider if you are concerned about health information in the media that applies to you.  What can you do between appointments?  If you are looking for trustworthy cancer related information, the XRAYS Featured Studies and Articles section of the FORCE (Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered) website provides expert-reviewed articles based on published studies, news articles, and popular media studies.

Asking the above questions will help you determine if the information is credible, and ultimately help you take charge of health-related information shared by the news and media.

Become better informed on breast cancer-related news; see FORCE XRAYS Quarterly Digest and weekly reviews, here.

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