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By Zulima Palacio
Washington
31 December 2008

Millions of Internet users in the U.S. have searched online at one time or another to see what could be making them sick.  

Stacey Vaselaney
Stacey Vaselaney
There is no guarantee that people can find an answer or a reliable source on the Web. But for many, the Internet could be a life saver.

Stacey Vaselaney, 40, was enjoying a glass of wine when she first felt intense pain. 

"It was in my neck and it was this excruciating, stabbing sharp pain like nothing I had ever experienced before," she explained.

A few days later it happened again - with a sip of beer. Then, she searched the Web, typing in "pain in lymph nodes after drinking alcohol." The search produced sites about Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Vaselaney lamented, "Hodgkin's lymphoma, that's cancer… I don't have that."

Dr. Alan Lichtin
Dr. Alan Lichtin
Soon after, Stacey felt a small mass in her neck. Her doctor guessed it was an infection. But then oncologist Alan Lichtin was called in. 

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

A biopsy proved Stacey in fact had Hodgkin's disease. But it was caught early and treated with chemotherapy and radiation. She is now in remission and celebrating.

According to Internet World Statistics nearly one-and-a-half billion people around the world search the Internet regularly. Millions have gone online seeking medical information. Dr. Kelli Harding is with Columbia University.

According to Internet World Statistics, millions have gone online seeking medical information
According to Internet World Statistics, millions have gone online seeking medical information
"I sort of think of the Internet as the cutting edge of hypochondria," Harding said. "Because now… there is so much information and just because you have a headache doesn't mean it's a brain tumor."

The problem is the information can be incomplete or wrong. But doctors recognize the benefits of good information as long as their patients read reliable sources. Some of those include WebMd and sites attached to well-respected hospitals and research institutes.

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