Home > Uncategorized > WebMD Told Me I Have Cancer

WebMD Told Me I Have Cancer

Hi! This is my first blog post, so I wanted to draw from personal experience to elaborate on an interesting article published last May in Psychology Today magazine. It was featured on the PT website today, and I found that very ironic considering my “near death” experience that I “had” this weekend.

Admittedly, I can be a bit of a drama queen. So this weekend, when I had a stomachache that was slightly more painful than the average ailment, I immediately thought I was having an ulcer. I called my mom and told her that I was unsure I would finish this semester alive because this ulcer would kill me. She responded, “You probably just have to go to the bathroom.” And that was the end of the conversation.

My first reaction was anger at her belittlement of my life-threatening situation. I was seriously having an ulcer…right? I went on WebMD to use their Symptom Checker, and that told me I could have anything from a common cold to pancreatic cancer. Today when I was browsing through Psychology Today, I saw the article entitled “The Dangers of Self-Diagnosis” by Dr. Srini Pillay, author of four medical books. Reading through it, I realized that I was the victim of every component of his argument. I felt like was talking to me. I, like most people (I hope), assumed I could “surmise what is going on with themselves may miss the nuances of diagnosis.” Basically, having an ulcer could be a diagnosis for my stomachache, but it is not the only option. He goes on to write that, even though we like to think that we know ourselves better than anyone else does, we always “need a mirror to see ourselves more clearly.” I was clouded by the illusion of having a serious illness, and my mom was able to show me that I most likely was not having an ulcer. Lastly, Dr. Pillay writes that, “Another danger of self-diagnosis is that you may think that there is more wrong with you than there actually is.” In my particular case, this is also true.

Here is where it gets interesting. Two years ago, my mom was diagnosed with sleep apnea. Since her diagnosis, she has been telling absolutely everyone that complains of a sleep issue that they have sleep apnea. A lot of the people that she diagnoses, however, have turned out to have sleep apnea (including my grandfather). While this is not technically “self-diagnosis,” my mom is not a doctor and can only hypothesize as to whether someone really has sleep apnea or not.

What do you think? Are you a victim of self-diagnosis? Can we diagnosis our friends and family? Should people always go see a doctor when they think something is wrong with them? What do you think about people using website to help self-diagnose?

Have a good night! 🙂


Categories: Uncategorized
  1. February 14, 2012 at 3:32 am

    I have most definitely seen this as a problem. I know of many people who self-diagnose themselves according to the latest magazine article or internet post, or after Google-ing their symptoms. This is definitely a dangerous thing to do. Many times people go to doctors’ offices already convinced that they have a brain tumor or some other chronic illness, because they “might” have “one of more” of the symptoms in an article.
    These days much of this research and self-diagnosing is done online- the database is much more wide, and the access is much easier. It is always risky to have preconceived notions, but it is especially risky to have preconceived ones when going into a doctor’s office for a real diagnosis and tests. You can guess and read articles all that you’d like, but nothing can be as sure as legitimate tests.

  2. February 18, 2012 at 7:19 pm

    I agree with lexicory, there seems to be an unreasonably high number of people who believe everything they read in a magazine and newspaper to be both true and pertinent to their individual case.
    Things like WebMD are great resources to find out about an illness or how to take care of a certain type of medical problem, but are no replacement for the medical opinion of a doctor. It’s true that being more informed about your body and your health is a good thing, but arguing with your doctor over his analysis of your condition is usually a good place to draw the line.

  3. HK
    February 19, 2012 at 3:47 pm

    Have you ever noticed that in most commercials for medicines, dangerous side-effects and preconditions which should exclude someone from taking a particular pill are all listed as if the patient should be his/her own medical expert? You shouldn’t have to “ask your doctor if ____ is right for you” or to know to “not take ____ if you are nursing, pregnant, or may become pregnant”. Your doctors should tell you the best treatment because they are the ones who went to medical school. This issue is an extension of the one raised in this post. Not only are people encouraged by sites like WebMD to diagnose themselves, they are encouraged to treat themselves by pharmaceutical companies. This could lead to the obvious danger of not receiving the best medical care for whatever ails you.

    • February 20, 2012 at 9:43 pm

      I don’t agree. The line between self-treatment and being involved in your medical care is a fine one, but there’s an important distinction nonetheless. In fact, while you seem to agree with the OP, what you’ve termed an “extension” of her argument seems in fact to be a refutation. That is to say, while she considers ignorance dangerous and thinks we should be wary of self-diagnosis (lest we misdiagnose ourselves and others), you would have us remain completely ignorant of all things medical! After all, what business do we have meddling in such a complex field without even a degree to guide us?

      In the past, I’ve been critical of the new movement for accessibility in science, but I’m prepared to make a concession when it comes to medicine (and, for that matter, wherever it really does concern our welfare). I guess I’m not too afraid of disturbing my doctor’s delicate genius by asking about a new prescription on the market, and I see no reason why I should be.

      • HK
        February 26, 2012 at 6:02 pm

        I agree with you that we as a society would benefit from greater medical knowledge, and I wouldn’t have us be ignorant by any means. However, in the case of something as specific as a disease, it is necessary to leave it to the professionals. Ignorance is dangerous, but the real danger is being ignorant of one’s ignorance. Sure, there may be no problem with asking your doctor about a prescription for which you saw a commercial, but I’m certain the doctor, being a medical professional, will have already heard of the prescription and even read some of the research surrounding it. He/she would have already prescribed it if it were the best treatment for you. For the layperson having medical knowledge can be beneficial to the point of enabling him/her to carryout a healthier lifestyle. But without a medical degree, it is unlikely they will ever be able to contribute more to their own diagnosis or treatment than a doctor.

      • February 27, 2012 at 4:53 am

        Oh, I see! You wouldn’t have us remain ignorant, just quiet!

  4. February 19, 2012 at 8:41 pm

    It is good to get information to understand why a person is feeling a certain way, and it is definitely easier to have a website that tells you what you have, but when it comes to diagnosing yourself/ family, worry seems to take the better of us. Knowing what the worst possible situation can be gives us a reason to overreact and jump to conclusions. It’s easy to believe what we read online because it is ‘expert advice’ that immediately causes us to change our routine and to make assumptions. Self-diagnosing could also go negatively if someone assumes that what they have isn’t worth a trip to the doctor. Like the article said, doctors look at your personal history and make a conclusion to diagnose you, but articles obviously keep it vague because they can’t possibly list every possible situation a person is in.

  5. February 21, 2012 at 10:21 pm

    Like neharj mentioned, I think it’s important to note the under-estimation of self diagnosis. Assuming that the symptoms you have are minimal or not worth a trip to the doctor can also lead to serious issues. My grandma has several times been hospitalized because she has assumed her light-headedness is a result of not enough sleep or food, when it was really related to serious blood presssure issues. It’s important to keep in mind that while not every illness or symptom is life threatening, you should still speak to a doctor in order to avoid downplaying what could be something more severe.

  6. February 22, 2012 at 3:20 am

    I think what klazar said is really interesting because the article mainly brings up the point that people will too often jump to conclusions and “over-diagnose” themselves. I never thought of it in the reverse. Since posting this, I have been thinking a lot about the controversy of self-diagnosis. It is so multifaceted, and there are so many ways in which people can go right or wrong, that at first I was going to say that people should just never self-diagnose at all.

    But then I realized that I had a cold a few weeks ago, and I didn’t go to a doctor for that. Now I am considering not only people’s opinions on self-diagnosis in general, but when it is okay for people to self-diagnose, and at what point they need to see a doctor. Furthermore, we could also apply this thinking to psychology and psychiatry – when does a person know they are depressed? When should they get a prescription? (I know these are unanswerable questions, but they are just to think about!)

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