DR GOOGLE is widely an untrustworthy diagnosis for most medical issues but new research has shown its credibility for detecting melanomas.
A team of scientists from the University of the Sunshine Coast, QUT and Cancer Council Queensland found a surprise link between internet searches about the skin cancer and the number of officially confirmed cases.
Lead researcher professor Michael Kimlin said melanomas were accurate whereas breast, colon and bowel cancer didn't stack up.
"With melanoma, the relationship is there between the searches and the statistics. It's not large, but it's significant," Professor Kimlim said.
"It means that people who might see a lesion on their skin that rapidly develops or is an unusual shape or colour, they might then use Google to see what a melanoma looks like and then seek a diagnosis with their health care provider."
He said the findings showed how big data could be used to improve public health responses around cancer control, similar to how it had been used to predict infectious disease outbreaks.
"If we do more research and find a relationship around melanoma and internet search queries, it may allow us to target messages and prevention campaigns when a community is particularly at risk of melanoma," he said.
"If we have a sudden upswing of searches for melanoma in Cairns in the middle of winter, we would be able to deploy more sun protection strategies in those particular areas at the right time.
"The methodology needs further refinements before we can reliably use internet search engines to gain useful insights into the burden of cancer, however this is an exciting first step."
Professor Kimlin said other cancers were not as externally visible on the body, which could explain why the number of searches were not reflected in official statistics.
"It shows us that people's ability to self-diagnose is not good," he said.
"We'd always recommend seeing a medical doctor if you have concerns."