URL with Digital Object Identifier
Background: Cancer patients frequently search the Internet for treatment options, and hospital websites are seen as reliable sources of knowledge. Guidelines support the use of proton radiotherapy in specific disease sites or on clinical trials. This study aims to evaluate direct-to-consumer advertising content and claims made by proton therapy centre (PTC) websites worldwide. Methods: Operational PTC websites in English were identified through the Particle Therapy Co-Operative Group website. Data abstraction of website content was performed independently by two investigators. Eight international guidelines were consulted to determine guideline-based indications for proton radiotherapy. Univariate and multivariate logistic regression models were used to determine the characteristics of PTC websites that indicated proton radiotherapy offered greater disease control or cure rates. Results: Forty-eight PTCs with 46 English websites were identified. 60·9% of PTC websites claimed proton therapy provided improved disease control or cure. U.S. websites listed more indications than international websites (15·5 ± 5·4 vs. 10·4 ± 5·8, p = 0·004). The most common disease sites advertised were prostate (87·0%), head and neck (87·0%) and pediatrics (82·6%), all of which were indicated in least one international guideline. Several disease sites advertised were not present in any consensus guidelines, including pancreatobiliary (52·2%), breast (50·0%), and esophageal (43·5%) cancers. Multivariate analysis found increasing number of disease sites and claiming their centre was a local or regional leader in proton radiotherapy was associated with indicating proton radiotherapy offers greater disease control or cure. Conclusions: Information from PTC websites often differs from recommendations found in international consensus guidelines. As online marketing information may have significant influence on patient decision-making, alignment of such information with accepted guidelines and consensus opinion should be adopted by PTC providers.