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Awareness Campaigns Drive More People To Search For Health Information Online

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. If you’re wondering whether health awareness campaigns are worth your time and should be considered for your editorial planning, take a look at this study in the journal BMC Cancer Journal. It shows that “the annual breast cancer awareness campaign is proving effective in stimulating online activity” and increasing the searches about breast cancer.

Ronan Glynn from the National University of Ireland Galway and colleagues looked at six years of search trend data collected by Google Trends. They found that in August the search traffic for terms about breast cancer begins to rise. They peak in October and begin to decrease to normal levels in November/December.

Search activity on breast cancer per month

In times where 80% of internet users, or 59% of U.S. adults, look online for health information these results may not seem surprising. However, the team did not see the same effect associated with lung and prostate cancer. The authors discuss a few likely explanations:

  • Breast cancer has been repeatedly shown to receive more attention than any other malignancy in both the print and television media.
  • Breast cancer (number affected United States 2006, 2,605,000) has a greater prevalence than either prostate ( 2,320,000) or lung cancer (426,000).
  • American women have been shown to overestimate their breast cancer risk, and thus may have a lower threshold for searching out information and advice on breast cancer.

It is not possible to say what groups are responsible for the search activity on Google (i.e. advocates, patients, health professionals, etc.) and whether those people necessarily show an increased awareness of breast cancer or health seeking behavior offline.

Nonetheless, this study provides a new perspective and is interesting to groups beyond the medical field.

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