Can Google Trends Track Cancer Rates?

Source: Medical News Bulletin, January 2018

A recent study investigates whether google trends and search queries can be used to track disease and guide future prevention and support programs.
Internet search engines, like Google, are great tools that provide quick and easy access to health-related information, regarding disease symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment. Cancer-related queries are some of the most common health-related internet searches. Previous studies have shown that approximately 39 to 60% of cancer patients used the internet to obtain relevant information pertaining to their cancer. Considering the high incidence rates of cancer in Queensland, Australia, and all over the world, researchers question whether Google Trends, a large repository of search queries, can be used as a potential tool for tracking disease trends and guiding future prevention and support programs.
A recent study, published in BMC Cancer, by Huang and colleagues investigated the association between age-standardized incidence rates for common cancers and measures of internet cancer-search queries reported by Google Trends. The authors obtained record data of all people diagnosed with breast cancer, colorectal cancer, melanoma, and prostate cancer in Queensland, Australia, between January 2006 and December 2012. Google Trends provided search volume indexes (SVIs) for relevant search terms, including breast cancer, colorectal cancer, bowel cancer, colon cancer, melanoma, skin cancer, and prostate cancer. The search volume indexes provide a measure of how often the terms were searched in each month.
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