Decade of OncoLink Empowers Cancer Patients

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The Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania
Last Modified: March 26, 2004

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(March 19, 2004, Philadelphia, PA) – Cancer patients seek increasing amounts of control over their care through use of the Internet, according to the latest trends and figures released today from the Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennyslvania. The Center is host to the popular patient-driven website called OncoLink (www.oncolink.org ), which celebrates its tenth year in operation on March 23rd.

OncoLink at 10

Monthly accesses of OncoLink have grown from approximately 30,000 per month in 1994 (during its first year of operation) to an average of 9.5 million per month. Patient usage of OncoLink is increasingly shifting from information gathering to participatory functions. Indeed, since 2002, more than 630 patients have used the nation's first on-line clinical trials matching service to enroll in one of over 200 research studies at Penn (pending screening by a clinician); and, up to 1000 people have signed on to view live webcasts from several national and international cancer conferences. Cancer survivors have also added support programs that are proving popular, with the recent addition of art, humor and poetry forums to the website.

"The Internet was originally viewed as a tool to help bridge the information gap between patients and physicians," said Assistant Professor James Metz, MD, Editor-in-Chief of OncoLink and a radiation oncologist at the Cancer Center. "It has proven a lot more versatile – continually empowering patients to become active participants in their healthcare team."

According to recent studies, more than 40 percent of cancer patients at academic medical centers, and 20 percent of cancer patients of patients at community medical centers, have access to and use the Internet in the management of their disease.

The increasing use of cancer websites prompted OncoLink's editors to develop a checklist for patients to use when evaluating other websites. For instance, a credible web resource should list its editorial staff, their credentials and provide access to these experts for general questions and answers; it should also allow for confidentiality – even sites requiring registration should not be releasing any contact data without permission.

To keep up with increasing demands from patients for services, OncoLink's editorial board – comprised of clinical staff who answer patient questions – has grown from less than a dozen at its founding to nearly 70 this year. Publications are also being driven by patient use of the Internet, in contrast to the traditional posting of a publication to the Internet. This month, OncoLink – in conjuction with medical publisher Elsevier Saunders – produced the first-ever patient guide about colorectal cancer based on patient questions from the Internet, featuring answers to 100 commonly asked questions about colo-rectal cancer screening, diagnosis and treatment.

"This trend towards patient empowerment over the Internet is likely to grow as cancer care turns into management of a chronic disease," said Metz. "Patients have to deal with their disease for a lifetime, and it is only natural that they will demand as much independence as medical and computer technology will allow. OncoLink will continue to evolve in order to meet patient needs for increased participation in their care."

David March
(215) 615-3353
david.march@uphs.upenn.edu

Editor's Note: You may also find this news release on-line at www.uphs.upenn.edu/news/.

About the Abramson Cancer Center: The Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania was established in 1973 as a center of excellence in cancer research, patient care, education and outreach. Today, the Abramson Cancer Center ranks as one of the nation's best in cancer care, according to US News and World Report, and is one of the top five in National Cancer Institute (NCI) funding. It is one of only 39 NCI-designated comprehensive cancer centers in the United States. Home to one of the largest clinical and research programs in the world, the Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania has 275 active cancer researchers and 250 Penn physicians involved in cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment. More information about the Abramson Cancer Center is available at: www.penncancer.org.


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