Movember and breast cancer awareness month, or Pinktober, are meant to educate people about the signs of serious cancers and spur them to get screened. While these campaigns have a wide reach, researchers have found that searches for prevention screenings don’t always correlate to these awareness efforts.
Researchers at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine compared Google search trends for the awareness campaigns, including Movember, mustache, Pinktober and pink ribbon, to searches for the diseases they correspond to and screening tests, like mammogram, prostate cancer and PSA test, which screens for prostate cancer.
Dr. Giovanni Cacciamani, one of the study’s authors and an assistant professor of research urology at Keck, said when the two awareness campaigns were compared, searches for Pinktober were constant, while Movember searches were declining.
“What we found was when you compare the traffic for Pinktober and Movember, you can see the peaks in October and November; [the campaigns are] raising people’s curiosity and people go straight to Google to find information,” Cacciamani said. “When you look at the two trademarks for the campaigns, mustache for Movember and pink ribbon for Pinktober, you can find peaks for that. When you look at searches for mammogram and PSA test, mammography peaks in October, but there are no peaks for PSA test in November.”
These findings suggest that Pinktober is more effective at pushing people to learn more about breast cancer or mammograms.
Researchers analyzed Google searches for these words over six years, from 2012 to 2018, for the study, which was published in Lancet Oncology. Cacciamani said there could be several factors influencing the gap between Pinktober and Movember.
The decline in Movember and PSA searches could be attributed to a change in the recommended test for prostate cancer. In 2012, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an independent panel of medical experts, began recommending against the PSA test for screening prostate cancer in men age 70 and older.
Another important factor is the target population for these campaigns. Breast cancer largely affects women, who may be more inclined to search for health information online and be active on social media than men, the study said. Cacciamani also suggested that the age difference between Movember participants and men who are at the greatest risk for prostate cancer could play a role.
“You can see a bunch of young people growing mustaches to educate people about prostate cancer online,” he explained. “But the people who are growing their mustaches and posting selfies on social media are far from the population for whom prostate cancer is a problem. This awareness may become helpful in the future [as these young people age], but there is a gap.”