For a Second Opinion, Some Patients Log On

Self-diagnosis of cancer led patient wisely to ignore doctor's reassurances.

Dec. 20, 2008 -- It all started one night when Stacey Vaselaney was out at a bar enjoying a glass of wine. All of a sudden, she felt a pain in her neck.

"It was this excruciating, stabbing sharp pain like nothing I had ever experienced before," she said.

A few days later, Vaselaney was taking a sip of beer and within seconds she felt the same sharp pain.

Later that evening, she went home and began searching the Internet to find a possible cause for her pain. She searched, "pain in lymph nodes after drinking alcohol." She was shocked when she saw the results of sites devoted to Hodgkin's Lymphoma.

Vaselaney said she thought, "Hodgkin's lymphoma, that's cancer, I don't have that."

The Internet can be a valuable medical tool, helping many patients learn about the symptoms they may have and the treatments that are available. According to one survey, 80 percent of Intenet users in the United States -- 113 million Americans -- have searched the Web for medical or health-related information.

Click HERE for a list of reliable health resources on the Web.

The problem, however, is that much of the medical information on the Internet is dangerously incomplete or, in some cases, flat-out wrong. The result can be needless worrying on the part of patients or damage to doctor-patient relationships, with each side developing mistrust and frustration with the other.

Vaselaney had noticed a small bulge in her neck. But when she told her doctor, he was quick to dismiss it, she said.

"He really was leaning towards a bacterial infection or some sort of infection and put me on antibiotics."

Frustrated with the lack of a conclusion, Vaselaney talked about her pain with her sister-in-law, who then asked Cleveland Clinic oncologist Dr. Alan Lichtin for another opinion.

"When I heard Stacey's story, I presumed it was going to turn out to be a Hodgkin's disease because alcohol-induced pain in lymph nodes is a rare presentation, but it happens," said Lichtin.

A biopsy proved the worst -- that Vaselaney indeed had been correct. She had Hodgkin's lymphoma. It was caught early and she quickly began chemotherapy and radiation.

In Vaselaney's case, the potential advantages of a patient's conducting his or her own Internet research are clear. The advantages can extend to improved doctor-patient relations.

When patients do research on the Internet, Dr. Martin Harris of the Cleveland Clinic says, "The patient is more knowledgeable. They ask more precise questions. And they are using common vocabulary to communicate right from the start."

Which is helpful to both the doctor and the patient.

Vaselaney, now a cancer survivor, said, " It's a collaborative effort. You know it's all going towards that end result, to cure or to help someone, to make them feel better."

So after months of treatment, Vaselaney can now celebrate and enjoy a toast, without the pain.