Your Search Engine Might Be Able to Detect Your Cancer Before You Do

Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

Turns out, the internet cares about your well-being. Aww. 

Source: Melanie Ehrenkranz/Mic

Microsoft scientists discovered that your search engine questions may be able to identify if you are suffering from pancreatic cancer before you've even been diagnosed, the New York Times reported.

The researchers looked at Bing searches (naturally, they are Microsoft scientists) of users (who remained anonymous) whose searches pointed to a recent diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. They then worked backwards, looking back "many months" ahead of these queries to look at patterns of symptoms, according to the paper published in the Journal of Oncology Practice.

"We found that signals about patterns of queries in search logs can predict the future appearance of queries that are highly suggestive of a diagnosis of pancreatic adenocarcinoma," the paper stated.

Source: Melanie Ehrenkranz/Mic

The researchers were able to identify 5% to 15% of the cases with an "extremely" low false-positive rate of 0.00001 to 0.0001, meaning the chance of telling someone that they probably have pancreatic cancer when they actually don't is very low. 

"I think the mainstream medical literature has been resistant to these kinds of studies and this kind of data," Microsoft researcher Eric Horvitz told the New York Times. "We're hoping that this stimulates quite a bit of interesting conversation."

Interesting, indeed. This study shows that there is potential to diagnose a disease based on your web searches. The sooner cancer is detected the better; early screening could increase survival rate. 

Researchers can explore symptom patterns to pinpoint a specific disease. The obstacle, then, is anonymity. In this study's case, users were examined anonymously. If using the search bar to diagnose disease is going to work, a scientist or medical company (or maybe even Google) will need access to all of your searches so they know who to contact if your queries are flagged as potentially cancerous. 

What's scarier: a deadly disease or someone reading your search queries?

How likely are you to make Mic your go-to news source?

Melanie Ehrenkranz

Melanie is a writer covering technology and the future. She can be reached at melanie@mic.com.

MORE FROM

'Pizzagate' shooter gets 4-year prison sentence, lawyers urged judge to deter vigilantism

Welch stormed a Washington, D.C., pizza place and shot off a firearm because of the internet.

American Health Care Act by the numbers: What to know about Senate Republicans' secret health plan

After drafting the ACA repeal and replace plan behind closed doors, the AHCA is out — and Senate Republican leaders are hoping to vote on it in a week.

9 photos of Tropical Storm Cindy and its aftermath on the Gulf Coast

National Weather Service forecasters estimate up to 10 inches of rainfall fell in areas between southern Louisiana and the Florida panhandle.

Watch Elizabeth Warren school lawmakers on what Planned Parenthood actually does

"I am sick of coming down to the Senate floor to explain to Republicans what Planned Parenthood does."

Federal court clears path for Mississippi's LGBTQ religious objection laws

One outlet called HB 1523 the "nation's worst anti-gay bill."

These secret wartime tunnels were hidden beneath London for 100 years. Here’s what’s inside.

The passages were once used to shuffle 4 million letters a day.

'Pizzagate' shooter gets 4-year prison sentence, lawyers urged judge to deter vigilantism

Welch stormed a Washington, D.C., pizza place and shot off a firearm because of the internet.

American Health Care Act by the numbers: What to know about Senate Republicans' secret health plan

After drafting the ACA repeal and replace plan behind closed doors, the AHCA is out — and Senate Republican leaders are hoping to vote on it in a week.

9 photos of Tropical Storm Cindy and its aftermath on the Gulf Coast

National Weather Service forecasters estimate up to 10 inches of rainfall fell in areas between southern Louisiana and the Florida panhandle.

Watch Elizabeth Warren school lawmakers on what Planned Parenthood actually does

"I am sick of coming down to the Senate floor to explain to Republicans what Planned Parenthood does."

Federal court clears path for Mississippi's LGBTQ religious objection laws

One outlet called HB 1523 the "nation's worst anti-gay bill."

These secret wartime tunnels were hidden beneath London for 100 years. Here’s what’s inside.

The passages were once used to shuffle 4 million letters a day.