Experiments with Google Trends.
I’m supposed to be working on my skills that can accurately tell public perception on health issues. Can Google help?
What cancers are Australians worried about? Have a little think, and then venture below the fold (if you want nice scary death stats).
I used the major four: Breast O, Lung O, Prostate O and Skin O. These are the cancers you hear mostly about day in day out. I also added kidney cancer O and brain cancer (-), because these two were on my mind from work-related projects.
Search terms did not use quote marks, doing so only removes the news reference results without significantly changing the main chart. Google Trends machinations also removed brain cancer, perhaps they should market that…
The results were … interesting:
I wholly expected skin cancer to be number one across the board. However it appeared to only overtake breast cancer during the post-Summer period of 2005. Similarly its only real news peak is lackluster during the December 2006. There is a recent peak as well, which I might suspect is linked to NSW Health’s Dark Side of Tanning Campaign (video below).
Of course, these search terms are rather crude. Perhaps Australians are clear enough to search for “melanoma” rather than skin cancer.
The obvious point is breast is a very popular search term. Thank you internets. (Note: Porn shouldn’t be a confounding factor here, the charts are essentially identical using quote marked search terms: check)
Lung cancer appears to have declined as a search term, and now barely registers, alongside kidney cancer. The news peak at E appears to correspond with news of genetic links and lung cancer.
Do the search and news popularity correspond to risk?
According to AIHW
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer for males, while breast cancer is the most common for women. Second is colorectal cancer for both sexes, followed by melanoma of the skin, lung cancer and lymphoma. (A quick check for colorectal cancer and lymphoma on Trends puts them at similar levels to kidney cancer).
Even though male breast cancer incidence is low, it would appear that breast cancer’s popularity (if that’s a wise choice of words) is warranted. But remember those figures are incidence, not mortality (how dangerous a cancer is).
Talking mortality, lung cancer is now the most serious cancer for both men and women, overtaking breast cancer as killer in females. This may be in part due to increased support and therapy choices for breast cancer patients – that is outlook for lung cancer patients isn’t getting worse, outlook for breast cancer patients is improving (which is good, because incidence is still high). The next ranked cancer killer is prostate cancer in men and breast cancer in females, followed by colorectal cancer, cancer of unknown primary site and pancreatic cancer (source AIHW).
This means that perhaps awareness, and as such, funding for development of new therapies is not being directed to the most serious threats.
There certainly isn’t support for lung cancer patients on the level there is for breast cancer patients. Is this in part because of stigma/blame associated with what is percieved as a user-at-fault disease? Or perhaps does the plethora of anti-smoking propoganda campaigns count towards “lung cancer awareness”?
Movember and increased awareness campaigning for prostate cancer doesn’t seem to have corresponded with much of a shift in internet coverage. Although I suspect the 2008 news peak, which sees prostate cancer reach breast cancer levels is Movember-associated.
But even beyond these, cancers like colorectal cancer and cancer of unknown primary go largely unrecognised as risks by the general public.
I like that the government is investing in serious campaigning on cancer with its skin cancer campaign, but does this gap between risk and awareness on other cancers suggest a hole in the system?
One of the “Dark Side of Tanning” TV spots. The metastases animation is really cool, and has an important message about long-term issues with tanning.
Final Note: Trends do differ in different countries.