The Internet for Oncologists: Hunting for Genes on the World Wide Web
University of Pennsylvania Cancer Center
Last Modified: May 18, 1996
CHAIR: Mark Boguski, MD PhD
National Center for Biotechnology Information
Susan Hubbard, RN
National Cancer Institute, International Cancer Information Center
L. Michael Glode, MD
University of Colorado Sciences Center
Photo: Susan Hubbard, RN
Growth of the Internet has exploded in the past several years and the
effect has been felt by both patients and their physicians. The
number of servers disseminating online information has grown
logarithmically and, concomitant with this growth, there has been a surge in
use of home computers.
The amount of material available to cancer researchers has exploded.
Several sources for this information were mentioned:
- The National Cancer Institute maintains a long list of electronic
documents which are peer-reviewed and continually updated. These Physicians Data Query (PDQ) Statements cover a large
number of diseases as well as providing information about new drug
therapies, clinical trials, and supportive care information.
- Genetic research information is now coming online. At present,
more than 700,000 gene sequences from 15,000 species can be searched
online, via a World Wide Web search form. This represents the
material of approximately 5 complete series of Encyclopedia Brittanicas, with
the quantity of the content doubling every twelve months.
- While there is a large amount of useful information available on
the World Wide Web, the panelists did cite the conern about the
reliability of information found online. Because the possibility of
publishing online is now open to all, the quality of the material
found on the Internet can vary. Some suggestions from the panelists
were to look for sites which are peer-reviewed, with editorial
oversight. Similarly, it is important to analyze the data found in
terms of quality assurance -- is the material presented up-to-date?
- Realizing that the future of rapid information dissemination lies
in technologies such as the World Wide Web, ASCO has begun an effort
to create a web page. A demo version is available for viewing at the
conference, with the final public unveiling scheduled for July. It is
ASCO's goal to provide assistance to patient advocacy groups by
providing them an Internet forum for disseminating information.
Through this medium, then, doctors will be able to interact more
directly with these patient advocacy groups by browsing their content.
ASCO also envisions a future in which information kiosks sit in
doctors' offices. These computer terminals would access databases of
information regarding experiemental protocols in progress around the world.
By filling out answers to some questions about themselves, patients
will be able to research available experimental protocols available at
a hospital near them. Such publicity regarding study protocols
would enable researchers to enroll patients in a faster, more
efficient manner, and in greater numbers than possible at present.
Obviously, there are still some technical issues to confront,
particularly in terms of security of data transmission across the Internet. For at all times it must be
guaranteed that patient information cannot be read by those not
intended to see it. The future possibilities, though, for both physician and
patient, are exciting.