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Your Website Searches Could Help Detect Cancer Sooner

Technology By
Pancreatic cancer cells completing cell division. (Visuals Unlimited, Inc./Dr. Stanley Flegler)
Pancreatic cancer cells completing cell division. (Visuals Unlimited, Inc./Dr. Stanley Flegler)

A new study from the Journal of Oncology Practice suggests that there’s a connection between search-engine entries and cancer diagnoses. Microsoft sifted through 6.4 billion anonymous search queries to find those people who were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and found telling patterns in their search histories leading up to the diagnosis:

“By looking for searches for symptoms—which include yellowing, itchy skin, and abdominal pain—and checking the user’s search history for signs of other risk factors like alcoholism and obesity, the team was often able to identify searches for symptoms up to five months before they were diagnosed.

In their paper, the team acknowledged the limitations of the work, saying that it is not meant to provide people with a diagnosis. Instead they suggested that it might one day be turned into a tool that warns users whose searches indicate they may have symptoms of cancer.”

Find out about the ramifications of the study by reading Michael Reilly’s full story on MIT Technology Review, here.