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CancerGuide: Researching Your Options

Finding Information
Understanding What You Find
Research Tools
Research Tools

Understanding what you find when you research the medical literature, and understanding your medical reports is often quite difficult, to say the least. This collection of reference tools, found elsewhere on the net, can help you crack the code.

What you will find here are links to Medical Dictionaries, sites with Drug Information and sites which explain Blood Tests, and Anatomy.

(Note that links will open in a separate window)

Medical Dictionaries and "Glossifiers"

The Online Medical Dictionary from CancerWeb contains over 65,000 entries.

The Glossifier from The Melanoma Patient's Information Page (MPIP) allows you to type in the URL of any page on the web and get it back with vocabulary words linked to their definitions from either of two dictionaries. Just click on any word the glossifier found to get its definition. I found the Biology Dictionary to be more complete but also much more technical than the NCI dictionary.

Even in the Internet Age, it is often convenient to have an actual paper dictionary. You can buy one at any well stocked general book store. Dorland's and Tabor's Cyclopedic are both good.

Drug Information

What you will find here is mostly basic information on the standard approved uses for these drugs, and on their side effects and interactions. These tools can give you an idea of what the drugs you are prescribed are usually used for, and what their side effects are. They also help you understand about approved drugs which are used in studies you've found in the medical literature. You can also use these sites to help you figure out if drugs used in some exciting study are experimental or if they are already approved. If all the drugs in a treatment are approved you then know the treatment might be available even if you don't qualify for a trial.

The drug information sites presented here will absolutely not tell you which drugs are best to treat your cancer. For that you need to research the literature. It's important to keep in mind that in medicine, and especially in oncology, many drugs are used for purposes other than the ones for which they are approved. This is called "off label" use, and is perfectly legal. You won't find much information on off label uses here. You also won't find information on experimental drugs - drugs that have not been approved by the FDA.

The sites I have found tend to be either super-simplified consumer information, or the FDA approved technical prescribing info. None of these sites offer any real wisdom about these drugs.

Non-Internet resources are also important. Two standards are:

The Physician's Desk Reference
Available in every pharmacy and library, this gives the FDA approved prescribing information for all prescription drugs.
Drug Facts and Comparisons
This professional reference will be found in better quality pharmacies, and public libraries, and in all medical libraries.

Cancer Drug References

Here you will find sites with information limited to drugs used to treat cancer.

OncoLink Chemotherapy Drug Reference - patient oriented information on the most commonly used chemotherapy drugs (from OncoLink)

Approved Oncology Drugs from the FDA Oncology Tools site. This site has several ways to look up drugs used in cancer therapy. In order to get detailed information on the drug you have to click on the drug's "trade name." The detailed information is the FDA approved prescribing information and is the same as what you would find in the Physician's Desk Reference. This means that only the approved use, dosage and schedules will be covered. As of this writing (July, 2000) the list is incomplete and some of the entries don't yet have the detailed information. I expect this to improve in the near future!

General Drug References

RxList seems to have the FDA approved official prescribing information for almost all drugs as well as patient friendly information, including both prescription and over the counter drugs. I find searching to be a little weak - try both the drug brand name and the generic name and look through the results and you should be able to find what you're looking for. This is a commercial site but the advertising doesn't get in your way.

Medscape's excellent DrugInfo Database has fairly detailed professional level information, including some information on "off label" uses. Medscape requires free registration, which is well worth the trouble as Medscape is probably the best general medical resource on the net.

Drug information from MedLine Plus (A service of the US National Library of Medicine) has some of the best quality consumer level information I have seen.

Finding Drug Information: A Magic Trick

For almost any reasonably recent brand-name drug, the pharmaceutical company which makes it will have an easy to find website just for that drug. If the brand name of the drug you're interested in is cureostat, try www.cureostat.com. Almost always this takes you right to the official site. Remember to use the brand name, not the generic name! This little trick works for almost any kind of drug, including cancer drugs, and even over the counter drugs like www.tylenol.com. If the trick doesn't work, try a Google search for the brand name of the drug - usually the official website will be in the first few hits.

I find it odd these websites, even the ones for drugs used to treat dread awful diseases, are always filled with these oh so nice pictures of happy, healthy looking people. More to the point they typically also have a "patient" section and a "health professionals" section. Don't be afraid to be a professional for a moment to get more detailed information.

For prescription drugs, you can count on finding the FDA approved "prescribing information" - often linked from the bottom of each page on the site. This the same information you'd find in the Physician's Desk Reference - the official approved information including side effects, dosages, and drug interactions.

What you will not find is information about uses of the drug other than those specifically approved by the FDA. It is specifically illegal for a drug company to promote so called "off label" uses even though, especially in oncology, off label use is very common. The drug company is only permitted to give the "party line" on indications, doses and schedules etc. there is one exception. If the drug is approved differently in other countries you may find the site allows you to go to information for other regions.

Understanding Lab Tests

LabTestsOnline is an amazingly well put together resource on all kinds of lab tests. The information is detailed, credible, unbiased, and even mostly in actual English. So if you start here, you may not need any of the other resources I list in this category. The only major disadvantage is that they don't usually give reference ranges.

Pathologist Dr. Ed Uthman's Interpretation of Lab Test Profiles explains all of the common blood tests, although it does not cover specialized antigen marker tests used in oncology, such as the PSA (Prostatic Specific Antigen) or CEA (Carcinoembronic Antigen). Ed is an overall interesting guy with a web page covering his many eclectic interests including pathology.

Dr. Uthman's Blood Cells and the CBC gives you some idea what the tests in the Complete Blood Count mean. These are often radically affected by cancer or by cancer treatment in ways not described here.

Tumor Markers are blood tests for substances which are present in the blood of people with cancer. They can be used to screen for the disease, as is common with the PSA test as well as to track the progress of therapy and test for recurrence. Most of these tests are specific to only a few kinds of cancer. Find out about specific tests at:

Anatomy

A good anatomy text with clear labeled drawings can be very useful for figuring out what the radiologists are talking about in scan reports, and occasionally in understanding research papers, although most papers, especially those on drug treatments, require no knowledge of anatomy.

Unfortunately, I have not found a current, reasonably detailed human anatomy text on the web. Despite this there are some useful sites on the web and you may find what you're looking for. If not, your best bet is a current anatomy text from the library or bookstore.

Gray's Anatomy at Bartleby.com
While this has the sound of an authoritative text, it is actually a classic. The final edition was published around 1918! While the human body hasn't changed in the last century, current texts have higher quality drawings. But Gray's does include detailed labeled drawings of the entire body, and it may very well have what you need. Be sure to click on the enlarged images to see the full detail!
Medical Anatomy List from Martindale's Health Science Guide.
This is a big list of anatomy sites on the net. If you haven't found what you need perhaps you can find it here. Expect to work at it though. I advise avoiding sites which present cross sections from scans because they don't permit easy 3-D visualization. You will find lots of sites dedicated to only one area of the body, many of which are the start of ambitious projects intended to cover the entire body - someday. These may be particularly useful for solving your problem - if you can find one with nice labeled drawings and for the area you're interested in, that is.


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This CancerGuide Page By Steve Dunn. © Steve Dunn
Page Created: 2000, Last Updated: March 15, 2004