Article Text

The utility of Google Trends data to examine interest in cancer screening
  1. M Schootman1,2,
  2. A Toor1,
  3. P Cavazos-Rehg3,
  4. D B Jeffe2,4,
  5. A McQueen2,4,
  6. J Eberth5,
  7. N O Davidson2,6
  1. 1Department of Epidemiology, Saint Louis University College for Public Health and Social Justice, St. Louis, Missouri, USA
  2. 2Alvin J Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri, USA
  3. 3Department of Psychiatry, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri, USA
  4. 4Division of General Medical Sciences, Department of Medicine, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri, USA
  5. 5Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Arnold School of Public Health, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina, USA
  6. 6Division of Gastroenterology, Department of Medicine, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Mario Schootman; schootm{at}


Objectives We examined the utility of January 2004 to April 2014 Google Trends data from information searches for cancer screenings and preparations as a complement to population screening data, which are traditionally estimated through costly population-level surveys.

Setting State-level data across the USA.

Participants Persons who searched for terms related to cancer screening using Google, and persons who participated in the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS).

Primary and secondary outcome measures (1) State-level Google Trends data, providing relative search volume (RSV) data scaled to the highest search proportion per week (RSV100) for search terms over time since 2004 and across different geographical locations. (2) RSV of new screening tests, free/low-cost screening for breast and colorectal cancer, and new preparations for colonoscopy (Prepopik). (3) State-level breast, cervical, colorectal and prostate cancer screening rates.

Results Correlations between Google Trends and BRFSS data ranged from 0.55 for ever having had a colonoscopy to 0.14 for having a Pap smear within the past 3 years. Free/low-cost mammography and colonoscopy showed higher RSV during their respective cancer awareness months. RSV for Miralax remained stable, while interest in Prepopik increased over time. RSV for lung cancer screening, virtual colonoscopy and three-dimensional mammography was low.

Conclusions Google Trends data provides enormous scientific possibilities, but are not a suitable substitute for, but may complement, traditional data collection and analysis about cancer screening and related interests.


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