Pancreatic Cancer Detection by Internet Search Engines

Health In Focus   - G J E 4
  • Pancreatic cancer has a poor prognosis.
  • Diagnosis of pancreatic cancer is often made too late to be treated effectively.
  • Microsoft scientists collaborated with the Columbia University researchers to find how  Internet search engines can be used to detect pancreatic cancer.
  • The study showed that there is a possibility to detect the upcoming diagnosis of pancreatic cancer with the help of the Internet search engine log.
Pancreatic cancer is the fourth most cause of the cancer-related deaths in the USA and sixth most cause of the cancer-related death in Europe. 75% of patients who are not candidates for surgical treatment die within one year after diagnosis; only 4% of them will survive after 5 years after diagnosis. The disease progresses from stage I to stage IV in a span of one year.
Pancreatic Cancer Detection by Internet Search Engines
Pancreatic Cancer Detection by Internet Search Engines

Pancreas has both endocrine and exocrine function. The pancreatic cells develop mutations in the DNA, which lead to the rapid replication of the pancreatic cells and formation of the tumor. The risks of pancreatic cancer include genetic predisposition, excess body weight, tobacco use, diabetes mellitus and chronic pancreatitis.

‘Internet search engines are found to play an important role in the early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.’
The symptoms of the pancreatic cancer are  pain in the upper abdomen which radiates to the back, weight loss, jaundice, loss of appetite and generalized pruritus. But the symptoms are not very specific to suspect pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic cancer has a poor prognosis. Early diagnosis plays a key role in the improvement of the survival. So screening tests should detect the early invasive or the pre-invasive stage of the disease; when they are still curable with chemotherapy or surgery. In  high-risk patients, it is essential to screen for the disease. Currently, endoscopic ultrasound along with  surveillance is used to detect cancer at the curable stage by screening high-risk patients But till date, there is no cost-effective and sensitive screening modality for the general population.

We all search our queries on the Internet every day for valid answers. Likewise, people with symptoms of pancreatic cancer and those who are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer search the Internet regarding disease management.

A feasibility study was conducted by the Microsoft scientists and the Columbia University researchers to find how the Internet search engines can help detect pancreatic cancer before the clinical diagnosis.

In the study, the Internet searchers with the presumptive diagnosis of the pancreatic cancer were identified based on the type of the search query by them. The past Internet search history was traced among these Internet searchers before they made the landmark query, to observe the pattern of the symptoms based on their search queries related to the concerning symptoms. The statistical classifiers were built to predict the upcoming landmark queries based on the pattern of the queries in the search log. They found that the patterns of the search log queries can predict the future queries that are highly suggestive of the diagnosis of the pancreatic adenocarcinoma.

The study could identify 5 to 15% of the cases. So, there is a possibility to detect the upcoming diagnosis of pancreatic cancer with the help of the Internet search engines.

Application of the Study

  • The results were hopeful, and the use of the Internet search history for the screening of the pancreatic adenocarcinoma is achievable.
  • The study suggests that the low cost and wide coverage surveillance systems can be arranged to observe the pattern of the search queries and provide early warning to the web searchers about  pancreatic adenocarcinoma.
  • The same methods can be expanded to other cancers too.
This study based on the temporal association between the web search queries log and the landmark query showed  hopeful results. Hence, it is implied that  pancreatic cancer detection is possible with web search engines.

  1. Paparrizos, J., R.W. White, and E. Horvitz, Screening for Pancreatic Adenocarcinoma Using Signals From Web Search Logs: Feasibility Study and Results. J Oncol Pract, 2016.
  2. Larghi, A., et al., Screening for pancreatic cancer in high-risk individuals: a call for endoscopic ultrasound. Clin Cancer Res, 2009. 15(6): p. 1907-14.
  3. Pancreatic Cancer
Source: Medindia

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