Editorial policy | Cancer Research UK
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Editorial policy

This document sets out the editorial policy for the production and review of health and patient information published on the Cancer Research UK website, http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer.

The policy aims to ensure that information is produced to a high standard and is accurate, current, and accessible to the lay public and people with disability.



This policy covers information produced for Cancer Research UK's patient information and health information pages in the section called ‘About cancer’. It includes sections on

  • Causes of cancer
  • Cancers in general
  • Cancer types
  • Coping with cancer

The Health Information Team and the Patient Information Web Team produce the information.

This policy does not include information produced for the Clinical Trials Database. There is a separate Clinical Trials Database policy.


Ownership and purpose of the site

Our purpose is to provide information about cancer that is freely available to all and written in a way that people can easily understand. We endeavour to provide information with no bias in regard to gender, religion, ethnic origin, age, sexual preference, colour, and physical or mental disability.

‘About cancer’ is fully owned, funded and managed by Cancer Research UK. We want you to be confident that the information we provide is produced and brought to you independently of any influence by outside bodies or funding providers.

We are happy to acknowledge donations made to Cancer Research UK dedicated to financing our patient and health information pages. This gives credit to the person or organisation making the donation and is also in a spirit of openness about our sources of funding.

The patient information website of Cancer Research UK was formerly called CancerHelp UK. We stopped using this name in 2014.


Quality assurance

We aim to provide information that is accurate, well supported, of high quality and easy to read. To do this we review the best available evidence and consult external experts about our content. 

We aim to acknowledge where issues are controversial and make efforts in good faith to present the differing arguments in a fair and balanced way.

Our site carries the Plain English Campaign Crystal Mark award. 

Plain English Logo

Cancer Research UK is also a certified member of the Information Standard. This scheme aims to improve the quality of health and social care information.

The Information Standard makes sure that the cancer information we produce is

  • Supported by the best evidence available
  • Reviewed regularly
  • Produced according to quality guidelines

It also means that people affected by cancer and the public are involved in our information production.

All Cancer Research UK content that is Information Standard approved is marked with the Information Standard logo.

Information Standard Logo

Cancer Research UK is responsible for the accuracy of the information we publish and neither the Information Standard scheme operator not the scheme owner shall have any responsibility whatsoever for costs, losses or direct or indirect damages or costs arising from inaccuracy of information or omissions in information published on the website.



Major new content is planned by the health team and patient information web team according to the site's current content plans. Subjects for new content are selected according to

  • Evidence of user need
  • Feedback from site users
  • Feedback from patient advisers
  • Previously identified gaps in site content
  • Use of digital metrics such as Google analytics to identify the information people are searching for
  • Current issues in health awareness and oncology

Health team

After identifying needs a case is made for the new content. This is discussed at a team meeting and a plan for the content creation put in place.

Patient information

Detailed planning of the writing programme for the patient information is carried out at editing meetings each month by the New Information Manager and Clinical Information Manager, following discussion with the patient information web team.



Most information is written in-house by members of the health information team or the patient information web team. 

Health information

An appropriate member of the Health Information Team researches the content area and writes and develops a series of drafts. This process includes input from other Cancer Research UK teams where necessary.

Patient information

The team originates the written material for the Cancer Research UK patient information web pages. When a section is commissioned, the writing and editorial team meet to discuss the structure, content, illustrations, appropriate reviewers and deadlines.

A manager in the patient information web team oversees the production of information both internally and externally. They are responsible for setting deadlines, commissioning reviewers and coordinating the production process to publication on the website.

Videos, animations and diagrams

Videos, animations and images are either commissioned within the organisation or with an external agency. Scripts and initial drafts are originated in-house by relevant members of the health and patient information teams.

Sourcing material externally

Material can be sourced outside Cancer Research UK with the agreement of the Head of Health and Patient Information and other managers in the health and patient information teams. Material can be commissioned externally if

  • The writing resource is not available within the team
  • External sources of relevant expertise are identified

All external writers must comply with our house style and our writers' guidelines. Their work is subject to the same procedures as information produced internally (ie the editorial workflow and specialist review process).


Researching information

Before beginning the draft of a new page or section the writer carries out thorough background research of the subject. This comprises a thorough literature review and check of other appropriate and relevant sources.

Sources include

  • Systematic reviews
  • Major randomised controlled trials
  • Review articles published in the British Medical Journal, the New England Journal of Medicine, The Lancet and Lancet Oncology, and relevant specialist journals eg urology
  • Cancer Research UK CancerStats series
  • Cochrane reviews
  • Current published NICE and SMC guidance
  • External cancer clinical trials bodies: National Institute for Health Research Clinical Research Network: Cancer (NIHR CRN Cancer), Medical Research Council (MRC) plus others as relevant (eg Haematology Trials Group)
  • International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reports
  • Medical practice guidelines published by the relevant UK medical bodies (ie Royal colleges, British Society of Haematology etc), SIGN and COIN
  • Our own internal records of current and closed clinical trials, and trial results, including trials conducted at Experimental Cancer Medicine Centres (ECMC)
  • Published US National Cancer Institute (NCI) treatment summaries
  • World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) reports


For all materials and drafts the writer must refer to

  • The health and patient information writers’ guidelines
  • The most current style guide
  • Training and advice on web writing

We follow the plain English Campaign general guidelines and their guidelines for writing medical information.

Our current house style includes

  • Use of white space
  • Use of the second person, rather than third
  • Use of active voice
  • Bullets where appropriate
  • Short sentences
  • Medical terms secondary to plain English description
  • Friendly tone
  • Short pages where possible
  • Use of diagrams, illustrations, videos and animations

Writers must adhere to the house style for all site content.

Health information

A Health Team member is responsible for producing the first draft. The draft then follows a review and editing process carried out by a senior member of the team (at least managerial level).

  • Further copy review and editing is conducted as appropriate by cancer information nurses, cancerstats, science communications, or policy
  • Suitable image(s) are selected either from the Cancer Research UK photo library or sourced externally if necessary

Patient information

The New Content Manager and team are responsible for producing a first draft of new material. This is then either passed on to the New Content Manager, if not written by them, or the Clinical Information Manager for editing re plain English, grammar, link consistency and fact checking. Further amendments may be needed, following detailed feedback from the editing process.

Each new patient information page requires the writer to produce

  • Page titles and urls
  • Meta description text
  • The body text
  • Sketches for diagrams to be commissioned from medical illustrator
  • Glossary terms for any new technical words used in the section that are not already included in the glossary
  • Key wording
  • References

Meta description data is used as the basis for the brief page descriptions that appear in internal and external searches.  It is generally formed from the introductory sentence and bullets for each page, which will necessarily include keywords relevant to the page content.



A manager edits and checks each information draft for

  • Readability
  • Grammar
  • Punctuation
  • Style
  • Links throughout each section, to other parts of the site and to other sites
  • Referencing
  • Accessibility
  • Relevance

The originator of the information or the manager make any necessary changes identified during the check. 

The revised draft is then sent for external review to 1 to 3 external specialist reviewers and 1 or 2 lay reviewers, if possible. Where possible, draft illustrations are sent at the same time.

Once comments are received from the external reviewers, the originator of the content or a manager incorporates them as appropriate.


Content review co-ordination

Health information – 2 members of the Health Information team oversee the review of new health information content.

All changes are saved, including any expert reviewer feedback.

Patient information – The New Information Manager and Clinical Information Manager coordinate and implement the review of new information. They maintain all records and timetables. Reviewers are asked to return their completed section reviews within 4 weeks of receiving them. Individual page reviews may take just a few days. 


Specialist review

Specialist reviewers are selected by the Clinical Information Manager, New Information Manager or a Health Team Manager, in consultation with other clinical editorial team members.

Health team

The health team managers ask external specialists to look at pages on a case by case basis.

Patient information 

Reviewers are selected individually for each section, according to the needs of that section. Normally, for a specific cancer, this consists of one oncologist and one cancer surgeon. For cancers not normally treated with surgery, such as leukaemia, two oncology haematologists could be selected. Other health professionals can also be specialist reviewers, including specialist nurses, oncology pharmacists, dieticians and physiotherapists.

For the Coping with Cancer sections, reviewers may include GPs, community cancer nurses, and other professionals with areas of relevant expertise. 

See a list of our specialist and lay reviewers.

Once all external reviewers' comments have been incorporated, new sections are sent to the Clinical Information Manager for final review.

The pages of all returned reviews are kept on file in hard copy or as an electronic copy for 5 years. The person implementing the comments makes notes on the documents about whether comments have been incorporated and when. An explanation of why any comments from reviewers are not included are noted on the review copy.

The clinical information team contact the specialist reviewer about any areas of confusion or inconsistency that cannot be otherwise resolved. 

We pay a fee to our professional reviewers for the sections or pages that they review. They also agree to respond promptly to one off queries that may occur during the year, such as checking a paragraph to be included about a new form of treatment.

Payment is made when the completed review has been returned. We retain the right to withhold payment of the fee if reviews are not carried out to a satisfactory standard. This is determined on an individual basis by the Clinical Information Manager.

Review for video, animations and diagrams

Videos and animations are usually produced with the input of relevant specialists, as they are consulted during writing of the script or preparation of the content being produced. For example, the script for 'exercises for breast cancer' was written with input of specialist physiotherapists.  

Specialist input is recorded as part of the production process. If specialists are not included in production, then the video/animation / diagrams should be sent to specialists for review before being uploaded onto the site.


Lay review

Where possible, we contact a lay reviewer to review each new page or section.

For patient information the lay reviewers are people who have had cancer themselves or are relatives of people with cancer.

For health information the lay reviewers are members of the general public. Sometimes these will be a specific groups such as the over 50’s etc.

In addition to lay review, we carry out usability and readability testing  periodically with representatives of the site's main user groups

  • People concerned about cancer symptoms
  • People interested in health awareness
  • People diagnosed with cancer
  • Relatives of those diagnosed with cancer
  • Health professionals

Proof reading

Following the incorporation of reviewer comments, proof reading of all new content is carried out by the appropriate manager on the final draft. They correct any spelling, typing or grammatical errors.

Content may be mounted on site prior to this final check, but is not made live until after proofing and checking.


Adding content to the site

We use an on line content editing and management system for all site content, including illustrations and video. Site content is mounted by the Cancer Research UK patient information website administrator or a member of the Digital team.

Whoever mounts the content must check each page on the front end of the site for layout errors or non working links. A manager from the health team or patient information team also carries out a final check as soon as possible after it goes live.


Meta data

Meta data comprises page title, url, keywords, and meta description. All meta data is put into the system at the same time as the content is mounted. However, changing search engine demands (eg Google) may mean that the format needs to change from time to time, which is then carried out during periodic review.

The meta description is the text that appears on a Google listing (for example), under the page title. The better the description, the more likely people are to click on our results when they come up in search engines. The idea is to put together a sentence that sums up the gist of the info on that page and encourages people to want to read it.

So for example for the trastuzumab page the metadescription is:

Read about the cancer treatment drug trastuzumab, also called Herceptin, including what it is, how it works and possible side effects.

The number of characters must be between 75 and 160, including spaces. Make use of the word allowance as much as possible. If over 160 characters it will be automatically shortened with an ellipsis (...) at the end when it appears in a search.



The current Cancer Research UK website content management system automatically creates an archive version of every page. These archives allow us to view pages as they appeared on the site and are a useful additional reference to the text content drafts stored as described above.

Health information

Key draft versions for both new and updated content are stored in the appropriate web section folder located on the server here:

Prevention content – G:\Health Information Department\Ev + Info\Website\Healthy Living\Site sections

Early diagnosis and screening content – G:\Health Information Department\Ev + Info\Website\Spot Cancer Early

This should include:

  • Internal signed off draft
  • Draft(s) sent for review (if different to above)
  • Any reviewer comments (both expert and audience/lay review)
  • For direct updates to existing material, a draft indicating the changes to be made
  • Where the structure of a section is changing substantially, drafts of pages that follow the proposed new information architecture are preferred

Patient information

The patient information eRoom holds all drafts of new patient information content produced during development, up to the live copy.

The on line content management system automatically archives page versions, which are retained in the system with the date that version went live. 

Expiring information

If material is to be removed permanently from the site, it is expired electronically. Expiring content is carried out by the Patient Information Web Administrator, the Clinical Information Manager or the Search Optimisation Manager in the Digital team. The IT department creates redirects for those pages to direct users to other appropriate content on the site. 

The Patient Information Web Administrator can access expired pages if necessary, eg for a user query.

When content is permanently removed from the site, all page versions are copied and kept as archived material in eRoom. This material is kept for up to 5 years in line with the requirements of the Information Standard.


Page dating

All pages must have the date of last review or date it was originally made live in the event of new content. The date is in the bottom right hand corner of each page.

We do not provide any other dates on content as we believe that users find more than one date confusing. Furthermore with a site with such a long history, the original content production date is unhelpful.

We aim to review all content within 12 to 36 months of the last review date.


Periodic review of existing content

For existing site content, we have a strong commitment to retaining currency of information.

All relevant NICE decisions, treatment guidelines, major clinical trial results and other important changes are implemented on site as soon as possible after their publication. The members of the team with a clinical background in the Patient Information Web team and the managers in the Health Information team have sufficient expertise and subject knowledge to implement these changes without prior external review.

Health information

All changes are saved for reference.

Patient information

Content changes are documented in the review database, so that a record is maintained for the next external review.

In addition to this system of maintaining currency, we review existing site sections every 12 to 36 months. Review is carried out alternately externally and internally.

External review is carried out by up to two specialist reviewers.

Internal review is carried out by one of the following

  • A clinical member of the Cancer Research UK patient information web team
  • A member of the Cancer Research UK information nurse team
  • A member of the Health Information team

Review preparation consists of a search of sources listed in the researching section above.

Clinical trials database

A separate policy deals with the clinical trials database.


Your Tips and Stories

The aim of this section is to provide useful tips and information on coping with treatment and other aspects of cancer. It includes contributions from people with cancer or their families. We don’t censor the nature of the contributions – they don’t all have to be positive or describing success stories. What not to do can also be helpful to others.

For editorial reasons, we do not accept books or manuscripts (published or unpublished). 

We have a maximum length of 500 words and reserve the right to edit contributions.

This section is currently under review because people can now share their experiences on Cancer Chat – the Cancer Research UK patient information forum. 

For people who want to write in purely in memory of those who have died, these can also be submitted to the Cancer Research UK ‘Donate in Memory’ site.

Some existing content in ‘Your tips and stories’ may be used elsewhere on the site.


Questions and answers

This section of the patient information pages is gradually being decommissioned. Existing question and answer pages are being incorporated into other existing information where possible. 

Any remaining question and answer pages are subject to the same periodic review process outlined in this policy.


News items

Topics in the news can be featured on the website home page, with a link to the relevant page or trial. Items may be selected because

  • There is major press coverage of a cancer topic
  • The Information Nurse team are experiencing a surge of enquiries on a particular topic
  • A Cancer Research UK trial is being promoted by the Press Office

Major news items may also be featured on Facebook and Twitter, with a link to the relevant section of the website.

We have an RSS feed for news items in place on all appropriate cancer type landing pages. Exceptions are for rare cancers, where there may be little current news and therefore an RSS feed would be showing items that are several years old. 

Before putting RSS in place, we vet the news items displayed where they may be sensitive, for example, genital cancers.


Feedback and user testing

We welcome feedback from our users on the information we provide and on the ease of use and accessibility of our website.

We read all feedback and retain it to inform our site development. 

Collecting feedback

There are several ways of providing feedback to us. From any page of the site, you can give a rating out of 5 and type a comment in a text box. You can click on the 'Contact Us' button on any page on this website, which takes you to our website feedback form, or you can email the teams at

  • patientinformation@cancer.org.uk
  • health.info@cancer.org.uk

All comments received via the page rating system or email are reviewed by the team managers for discussion. We amend site content in response to feedback if it is considered to be appropriate. Please note that feedback given via the page rating system is anonymous and untraceable unless you choose to type your contact details in the text box. Clinical questions sent to the site are forwarded to the Cancer Research UK information nurse team.

In addition to site feedback, we have an ongoing programme of lay review. 

We carry out periodic surveys of our patient information site users and regular usability testing with representatives of our 3 main audience groups

  • People with cancer
  • Relatives and friends of those with cancer
  • Health professionals

We hold interviews with our audience groups and the lay public and run periodic focus groups to gather feedback on particular aspects of our information.

Questions about cancer

If you have a question about cancer, you can write to our team of cancer information nurses using our Send a Question form. If you are in the UK and you include your email address, they will reply to you personally by email. If you would prefer a reply by post, you can give your full postal address.

Responding to feedback

If a reply is required to a non medical enquiry or complaint, the feedback form is passed to our admin team, who either answer it personally or pass it on to someone else in the team who has experience with the issue raised.

We endeavour to reply to patient information enquiries within 3 working days and health information enquiries within 7 working days. If this is likely to be longer you will be notified that your message has been received and is being attended to.



Complaints are responded to and sent by the most appropriate member of the Health Information team or the Patient Information web team. 

While all views are considered, in the case of a differing of opinions, we reserve the right not to continue with lengthy dialogue, either written or verbal, that we perceive to be of no benefit either to us or to the initiator.


Links to other websites

We provide links to websites that provide information or services that are useful to people affected by cancer. Sites must provide information that is additional to our own.

We limit lists of links, as we believe that long lists of links are less useful than shorter, more discriminating ones. This can be over-ruled with discretion. We would not wish to exclude a useful link solely on the grounds of number featured.

All sites we link to must be reputable and produce reliable, high quality information that is regularly updated. Links must be to organisations providing national services, rather than local, and must be UK based. Unless there is a special consideration (generally that a service is useful to our audience and difficult to find) we do not include links to commercial companies or services.

Links are approved on an individual basis. Link requests are reviewed by a member of the patient information web or health information team. The Clinical Information Manager or a Health Information manager has the final say on the inclusion of individual links.

We reserve the right to refuse to link to any website that we do not consider suitable for inclusion. Due to the many link requests we receive, our policy is to contact only those organisations whose request for a link is successful.

This site can and will link to sites who have a different opinion to our own on any given issue. However, we will not link to sites where the opposing viewpoint is based on poor evidence, rumour, hearsay, or uncorroborated personal opinion. We will not link to sites whose main aim is to sell an uncorroborated service or "treatment" to the public.

Links to blogs

We will not link directly to an external blog. Blogs are updated regularly and information may change and differ from when the blog was first viewed by a member of the patient information web or health information team. We cannot link to information where there is a risk of the information becoming inaccurate or unreliable.

Blogs may also contain personal opinions that conflict with the views and beliefs of Cancer Research UK. The only blog we link to is the Cancer Research UK science blog.

If we receive a request for a link to an external blog we signpost the individual to Cancer Chat – our on line cancer forum.


Policy review date

This policy will be reviewed on or before December 2016.

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Updated: 27 January 2016