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:
- the causes of cancer
- general information about cancer
- different cancer types and treatments
- 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.
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 is accessible to people of all literacy levels. 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. You can 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.
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. We are able to display this mark following assessment and approval by the Plain English Campaign. This takes place each year.
Our site also displays the Trusted Information Creator Kitemark (TICK). The Patient Information Forum (PIF) award the PIF TICK to organisations who have passed a thorough yearly assessment. It shows that our health and patient information has met a number of different criteria and that it:
- is evidence-based and up-to-date
- involves users
- is easy to use
THE PIF TICK replaces the Information Standard Kitemark developed by Public Health England.
Major new content is planned by the Health Information 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 and health professionals
- previously identified gaps in site content
- use of digital metrics such as Google analytics to identify the information people are searching for
- current issues and changes in health awareness and oncology/haematology
After identifying needs a case is made for the new content. This is discussed and a plan for the content creation is put in place.
Prioritisation and planning for new content takes place at editing meetings and team meetings. The Patient Information managers are responsible for the writing programme in consultation with the rest of the team.
Most information is written in-house by members of the Health Information team or the Patient Information Web Team.
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.
The Patient Information Web Team create the content for the patient information web pages. When a need for new content is identified, it undergoes a prioritisation process.
Content writers meet with a senior member of the team to discuss the structure, content, illustrations, appropriate external reviewers and deadlines.
A manager in the 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 writer guidelines. Their work is subject to the same procedures as information produced internally. For example, using the same editorial workflow and specialist review process.
Before filming or photographing anyone we ask them to sign a model release form to gain consent. This form explains how we will use the footage or photograph. We do this when we are doing the filming or photographing and when we have commissioned an agency. We also ask people to sign the form when they supply their own photographs.
The signed consent forms are stored electronically in a secure system with the records for the relevant information.
Before beginning the draft of a new page or section the writer carries out comprehensive background research of the subject. This comprises a thorough literature review and check of other appropriate and relevant sources.
Only current, authoritative, relevant, and trustworthy evidence sources should be used. Evidence is selected according to quality. The final information provided should reflect the balance of available evidence, clearly identifying any uncertainties or unknowns.
Criteria for sources to check:
- UK or European health and cancer guidelines, for example current published NICE, SMC, SIGN, ESMO guidance
- Medical practice guidelines published by relevant UK medical bodies, such as Royal colleges, British Society of Haematology, Scottish Medicines Compendium (SMC), British Association of Surgical Oncology (BASO)
- Trusted reports: World Health Organisation (WHO), World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) and International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)
- Primary, peer reviewed literature: search on Pubmed and NICE Evidence
More weight should be given to more recent systematic reviews and meta-analyses. Large, well-designed prospective cohort studies and randomised controlled trials can also be considered.
Other available evidence should be considered only if the above does not provide a sufficient body of evidence. For example when researching rare cancer types.
For all materials and drafts the writer must comply with:
- the health and patient information writer guidelines
- the most current style guide
- training and advice on web writing
- 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.
A Health Information 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 the Cancer Information Nurses, the Cancer Statistics team, Science Communications, or the Policy team.
Suitable images are selected either from the Cancer Research UK photo library or sourced externally if necessary.
A Patient Information Specialist Writer produces a first draft of new material, ensuring that it is clinically accurate, is balanced and reflects UK clinical practice. The draft is then passed on to one of the team managers for editing re plain English, grammar, consistency and fact checking. Further amendments may be needed after feedback during the editing process.
A manager edits and checks each draft of information for:
- clinical accuracy
- links throughout each section, to other parts of the website and to other sites
The originator of the information or the manager make any necessary changes identified during the check.
External specialist reviewers are selected by a Patient Information Web Team manager or a Health Information manager, in consultation with other editorial team members. Specialist reviewers are asked to declare any possible conflict of interest.
The Health team managers ask external specialists to look at pages on a case by case basis.
Reviewers for each section are selected individually from our panel of specialist reviewers, according to the subject of that section. For cancer type sections, reviewers are qualified oncology/haematology professionals or other health care professionals currently in clinical practice in the UK, such as cancer surgeons, medical and clinical oncologists, specialist nurses, oncology pharmacists, dietitians and physiotherapists.
Usually, for sections about a cancer type, the reviewers include one oncologist and one cancer surgeon. For cancers not normally treated with surgery, such as leukaemia, one haematologist reviewer is usually selected.
We ask the reviewers to comment on:
- the overall tone of the section
- whether the information represents current UK clinical practice
- whether there is an appropriate balance between different treatments
- any additional aspects we should include
- upcoming treatments that we should refer to, including treatments still in trial
- diagrams – checking existing ones and suggesting possible additional ones
- any upcoming UK guidance they are aware of that might affect this information
For Coping with Cancer sections, reviewers might include GPs, community cancer nurses, financial advisors, and other qualified professionals with areas of relevant expertise.
Once comments are received from the external reviewers, the originator of the content incorporates them as appropriate.
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 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 manager responsible for the content. Some reviewers choose to waive the payment.
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 the 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 are sent to specialists for review before being uploaded onto the site.
We contact one or more lay reviewers to review and provide feedback on each new page, section, video or leaflet.
We have a panel of lay reviewers. The panel is comprised of people who have had cancer themselves or are relatives of people with cancer. They have varying levels of health literacy.
We recruit lay reviewers through:
- our website
- the Cancer Research UK nurse helpline
- our online forum Cancer Chat
- our Patient Involvement Team
For each new piece of content we ask at least one lay reviewer to check:
- that the tone and style is friendly and supportive
- the information is understandable
- it is accessible
- it reflects their experience
- whether there is additional helpful information we could add
We aim to recruit members of the general public to comment on draft content. Recruitment happens through Cancer Research UK user testing routes, channels and networks: for example, social media and our involvement networks.
We ask reviewers:
- how easy the content is to understand
- whether it is informative and useful
- if the tone is appropriate
- what the main takeaway messages are
Responses as rating scales and free text comments are included.
Overall we must have feedback from a minimum of 3 people. If this has not been reached via the above, other methods are explored.
Feedback as a whole is considered by the writer, alongside the scientific evidence. If significant changes are made, content may be re-checked with lay reviewers.
Following the incorporation of reviewer comments, proofreading 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
All content is entered into our online content management system, including illustrations and video. Site content for the Health Information team is mounted by a member of the Digital team. Patient information content is mounted by a member of the Patient Information Web Team or the Digital team.
Whoever mounts the content checks each page on the front end of the site for formatting or link errors. A manager from the Health Information team or Patient Information Web Team also carries out a final check as soon as possible after the content goes live.
We archive all drafts of new information and reviewer comments electronically or occasionally in hard copy.
Previous versions for both new and updated content are stored in the appropriate web section folder located on the internal server.
All drafts of new patient information content produced during development, up to the final copy, are stored in Sharepoint.
The current Cancer Research UK website content management system automatically creates an archive version of every piece of information (entity).
If material is to be removed permanently from the site, it is unpublished electronically. Expiring content is carried out by a member of the Digital team or a manager in the Health or Patient Information teams. They create redirects for the expired content to direct users to other appropriate content on the site.
The teams can access expired pages if necessary. For example in the case of a user query.
When content is permanently removed from the site, it remains in the content management system. It might also be archived in the archive folder in Sharepoint. This material is kept for up to 5 years.
All pages have the date of last review (or date it was originally made live in the event of new content). The date is at the bottom of each page.
We aim to review all content within 12 to 36 months of the last review date.
Review and updating of existing content
For existing site content, we have a strong commitment to ensuring the currency of information.
We update our website content with all relevant NICE decisions, treatment guidelines, major clinical trial results, and scientific evidence changes 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.
An officer drafts the new content and it is signed off by a manager before being saved on the system and uploaded to the website.
Content changes are documented in the review database and can be viewed in the content management system.
In addition to this system of maintaining currency, we thoroughly review existing site sections every 12 to 36 months. Review is carried out internally for health information, and alternately externally and internally for patient information.
External review for patient information is usually carried out by up to two specialist reviewers.
Internal review for patient information 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 Cancer Information Nurse Team
Internal review for health information is carried out by a health information officer. The content is edited and peer reviewed as described above.
Review preparation consists of a search of sources listed in the researching section above and is carried out according to our in-house review guidelines.
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 receive thousands of items of feedback each year and most of these are very positive.
We read all feedback and retain it to inform our site development.
There are several ways of providing feedback to us. You can click on the 'Contact Us' link in the footer on any page on this website. The link takes you to a page with a link to our website feedback form. Or you can email the patient information web team at firstname.lastname@example.org
All comments received by email or on the site feedback form are reviewed by a member of the team. Clinical questions sent to the site are forwarded to the Cancer Research UK Cancer Information Nurse Team.
We also receive feedback from the permanent pop-up survey that appears at the bottom of each page.
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 respond to all genuine questions from members of the public in the UK.
We are not obliged to respond to:
- enquiries from people outside the UK
- enquiries containing abusive language or swearing
- repeated enquiries from the same person on the same point - we send a response to this effect
If the enquiry is from a student asking for help with research, we send a standard response that directs them to our online resources unless we decide, on a case-by-case basis, that a more detailed response is justified.
If the enquiry does not contain a question, and is not a complaint, we will usually not respond. However, there may be times when responding is appropriate, in which case we will do so.
If an enquiry comes to us that another team within Cancer Research UK is better placed to answer, we forward it to the appropriate department.
We endeavour to reply to 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.
We amend site content in response to any feedback if it is considered to be appropriate.
Surveys and usability and readability testing
We periodically carry out usability and readability testing with representatives of the site's main user groups:
- people diagnosed with cancer or having treatment
- cancer survivors
- relatives of people diagnosed with cancer
- health professionals
- people concerned about cancer symptoms
- people interested in health awareness
We carry out periodic surveys of our patient information site users. We also have regular usability testing sessions with the general public and representatives of our main audience groups.
For health information, we hold interviews with our audience groups and the lay public. We also 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.
It is rare for us to receive complaints. They are responded to and sent by the most appropriate member of the Health Information team or the Patient Information Web Team. A record of the communication and actions taken is stored in the Patient Information Web Team in-box or the Health Information Team folders.
If the complaint relates to inaccurate or out-of-date information on the website we will amend the information as soon as possible and respond to the complainant to let them know.
While all views are considered, in the case of a difference of opinion, we reserve the right not to continue with lengthy communication, 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.
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 numbers featured.
All sites we link to must be reputable and produce reliable, high quality information. We check that the information they provide is:
- evidence based with references available on the website or on request
- regularly updated
- written clearly and easy to understand
The sites should also have information that is additional to our own.
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 or Health Information teams. A Patient Information Web Team 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 aren't always updated regularly and the information may change from when the blog was first viewed by a member of the Patient or Health Information teams. 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 online cancer forum.
Policy review date
This policy will be reviewed in or before April 2021.