Researchers have begun to assess data produced from Internet search engine analysis to better understand the health concerns and awareness of patients and nonmedically savvy individuals. Specifically, Google Trends has increased as a data source because it compiles every Google search worldwide from 2004 to the present, aggregating results into a publicly viewable data site. Adeel M. Khan, MD, MPH, and colleagues at the Cancer Institute at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, specifically examined nonmedical and patient Internet users searches related to hematologic malignancies. 

“Over the past few years, cancer awareness campaigns in the United States have greatly increased awareness of specific malignancies, such as breast and prostate. However, the hematologic malignancies have not had the same level of awareness, despite rising incidence rates for leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma from 2004–2015,” Khan said.  

Specifically, the study authors examined Google Trends to assess searches from January 2004–December 2015 for terms related to the three major blood cancers (leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma), looking at search volume indices (SVIs) directly obtainable from Google Trends for each term. Researchers also looked at the SVIs for the term “cancer” for comparison. 

The team used standard Boolean operators to find search trends and analyzed the SVIs with Mann-Kendall trend tests and Sen’s slope estimators in R. Examples of search combinations follow.

  • “Leukemia” as LEUKEMIA + LEUKEMIAS
  • “Myeloma” as MYELOMA + MYELOMAS

Kahn and colleagues found that the average SVI for “cancer” generally was greater than that of hematologic malignancies from 2004–2015 (see Figure 1). The Mann-Kendall trend tests presented a statistically significant reduction in searches for “leukemia,” “lymphoma,” “myeloma,” and “cancer,” with Sen’s slope estimators showing the most reduction for “leukemia” and “lymphoma”; the lowest decline in searching was for “cancer” and “myeloma.”

“Overall, Internet searches for the hematologic malignancies represent a very small fraction of total searches for cancer,” the study authors said. “These data suggest a declining awareness for the major hematologic malignancies despite their rising incidences in the United States. Patient awareness may be increased with greater efforts toward disease-specific advocacy campaigns and public health endeavors.” 

Figure 1. Google Trends Searches for “Cancer,” “Leukemia,” “Lymphoma,” and “Myeloma” in the United States From 2004–2015