Do online searches reflect the underlying epidemiology of cancer in a region, and is search frequency affected by cancer-related public events and celerity news? In the Journal of Medical Internet Research, Charles Phillips and colleagues, including Marilyn Schapira and Raina Merchant, examine the association of Google search activity with the incidence of six common cancers over time in the United States. The authors used 2004-2013 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Google Trends (GT), an application that can track the relative search frequency of different terms or keywords.
The study had three main findings: cancer incidence is correlated with Google search volume at the state level, different cancers demonstrate unique Google search patterns, and search patterns are influenced by public events such as cancer awareness months and news coverage of celebrity experiences with cancer. The authors conclude that online searches reflect public awareness, and an understanding of online search patterns could augment traditional epidemiologic surveillance, provide opportunities for targeted patient engagement, and allow public information campaigns to be evaluated in new ways.