Studying web searches may help detect future diagnosis of pancreatic cancer

Washington: Microsoft scientists have teamed up with researchers from Columbia University to study how web searches can be used to detect future diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.

Researchers were able to identify between 5 and 15 percent of cases with low false-positive rates.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

Scientists from Microsoft Research and Columbia University in the US collected data from the search engine Bing and found that web searches can be used under certain circumstances to detect a future diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.

They identified recent search queries indicative of pancreatic cancer, such as the term, "I was told I have pancreatic cancer, what to expect."

Researchers then worked back to searches months earlier to study patterns in symptoms that concerned people usually looked for, Tech Times reported.

Some of the previous search terms they linked with a future pancreatic cancer diagnosis were "yellowing skin," "dark urine," "abdominal swelling" and "dark or tarry stool."

Researchers then found and analysed patterns to identify cases.

"Finding low cost, low risk, high coverage health surveillance systems is an important challenge," said Robert Grossman from University of Chicago who was not involved in the study.

According to researchers, there is a lot of potential in analysing health data because there is a wider range of access points now.

Aside from making web searches, individuals can take advantage of wearables that record health data specific to them, researchers said.

Gaining access to these data will give not just the current researchers but others as well a trove of information that can be used to improve health outcomes for everyone, they said.

The findings were published in the Journal of Oncology Practice.

Updated Date: Jun 14, 2016 15:32 PM

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