It is estimated that more than 600,000 people will die of cancer in the United States in 2020. Annual cancer diagnoses throughout the country are expected to rise in the coming years, which may further strain the American healthcare system. As such, it is vital that public health campaigns intended to reduce cancer morbidity and mortality are successful. Monthly cancer awareness campaigns have been used in the past to raise awareness and funding for various malignancies. One notable example is the ‘Pink October’ campaign to raise awareness for breast cancer. There has been limited study, however, on the effectiveness of cancer awareness campaigns for other cancers such as colorectal cancer, prostate cancer and cervical cancer. High-profile media coverage of celebrity cancer diagnoses and/or cancer-related deaths is another method by which knowledge of common cancers is dispersed to the public. In this study, we evaluate the impact of monthly cancer awareness campaigns as well as celebrity cancer diagnoses and/or deaths on Internet search traffic regarding various malignancies.
We used the Google Trends database to evaluate public interest in 13 different cancers (and their respective cancer screening methods, when applicable) from January 2010 to June 2020. Public interest in 6 of 13 cancers (cervical cancer, colorectal cancer, skin cancer, ovarian cancer, breast cancer and lung cancer) was significantly higher in their respective awareness months when compared to the rest of the year. Furthermore, peak public interest for 9 of 13 cancers was associated with a media-event such as a monthly awareness campaign or celebrity diagnoses and/or death. Our findings illustrate the important role that the media plays in facilitating public interest in common cancers and their screening methods. Cancer awareness months can serve as an effective tool to increase Internet search traffic regarding a given malignancy. In the future, public health agencies can attempt to utilise increased search traffic to better educate the public, raise funds and improve enrolment in cancer screening programmes that reduce cancer morbidity and mortality.