by Michael Reilly June 8, 2016
In the world of cancer treatment, early diagnosis can mean the difference between being cured and being handed a death sentence. At the very least, catching a tumor early increases a patient’s chances of living longer.
Researchers at Microsoft think they may know of a tool that could help detect cancers before you even think to go to a doctor: your search engine.
In a study published Tuesday in the Journal of Oncology Practice, the Microsoft team showed that it was able to mine the anonymized search queries of 6.4 million Bing users to find searches that indicated someone had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer (such as “why did I get cancer in pancreas,” and “I was told I have pancreatic cancer what to expect”). Then, looking at people’s search patterns before their diagnosis, they identified patterns of search.
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.