We all know that when you’re sick you shouldn’t turn to Google for cures.
But Australian researchers have uncovered the one time when maybe you should consult ‘Dr Google’ – discovering a strong link between internet searches about melanoma and confirmed cases.
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer which usually develops when parts of the body are overexposed to the sun.
The study compared Google searches in Queensland with officially diagnosed cancer cases from the Queensland Council Registry.
More than 2000 Australians died from skin cancer in 2015.
Lead researcher, Professor Michael Kimlin from the University of the Sunshine Coast, said while the relationships between melanoma searches and statistics weren’t large, they were “significant”.
After people see a lesion on their skin “they might then use Google to see what a melanoma looks like and then seek a diagnosis with their health care provider,” Kimlin says.
The study shows how ‘big data’ – extremely large data sets – could be used to improve public health.
“If we… find a relationship around melanoma and internet search queries, it may allow us to target messages and prevention campaigns when a community is particularly at risk of melanoma,” Kimlin says.
“For example, if we have a sudden upswing of searches for melanoma in Cairns in the middle of winter, we would be able to deploy more sun protection strategies and resources in those particular areas at the right time.”
The research was carried out by a team from USC, Queensland University of Technology and Cancer Council Queensland.
The researchers recommend people always see a doctor if they have any health concerns.
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