In a world with information at our fingertips via the Interwebs, it’s fairly common to jump online at the first signs of an illness (or an app, if you’re trying to determine which friend got you sick!), seeking answers for what ails us. While this often leads us down a rabbit hole of misinformation (health forums and the all-encompassing WebMD are a hypochondriac’s worst nightmare), as it turns out, it can also potentially save your life.


In a recent study, Microsoft researchers Dr. Ryan White and Dr. Eric Horvitz, along with Columbia grad John Paparrizos, analyzed 9.2 million Bing search queries from patients whose inquiries revealed that they had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, which allowed the researchers to detect the cancers as early as five months prior to their actual diagnoses in 5-15% of patients. What’s more, their error margin for false positives? Virtually slim to none.

The researchers worked backwards, first analyzing queries post-diagnoses (“I was told I have pancreatic cancer, what to expect”), and then delving deeper into those individuals’ search terms in the months leading up to their diagnoses.

Developing a “symptom set” for the disease, (including sudden weight loss, taste changes, light stool and abdominal pain), the researchers kept an eye out for these terms and their synonyms in the browsing history of the patients.

Their findings were particularly exciting with regard to this specific type of cancer, as it is one that can progress very quickly. “Because pancreatic [cancer] may progress from stage I to stage IV in just over a year, this screening capability could increase five-year survival.”

Whoa. That’s pretty cool news, if you ask us! If it can even save a life or two, it’s definitely worthwhile, in our humble opinions.

Are you excited by this detection development? Let us know over @BritandCo!

(h/t Hello Giggles, photo via Getty)