Internet Interest in Colon Cancer Following the Death of Chadwick Boseman: Infoveillance Study

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Naik, H., Johnson, M. D., & Johnson, M. R. (2021). Internet Interest in Colon Cancer Following the Death of Chadwick Boseman: Infoveillance Study. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 23(6). DOI: 10.2196/27052.

Date created: 
DOI: 10.2196/27052
Colon cancer

Background: Compared with White Americans, Black Americans have higher colon cancer mortality rates but lower up-to-date screening rates. Chadwick Boseman was a prominent Black American actor who died of colon cancer on August 28, 2020. As announcements of celebrity diagnoses often result in increased awareness, Boseman’s death may have resulted in greater interest in colon cancer on the internet, particularly among Black Americans.


Objective: This study aims to quantify the impact of Chadwick Boseman’s death on web-based search interest in colon cancer and determine whether there was an increase in interest in regions of the United States with a greater proportion of Black Americans.


Methods: We conducted an infoveillance study using Google Trends (GT) and Wikipedia pageview analysis. Using an autoregressive integrated moving average algorithm, we forecasted the weekly relative search volume (RSV) for GT search topics and terms related to colon cancer that would have been expected had his death not occurred and compared it with observed RSV data. This analysis was also conducted for the number of page views on the Wikipedia page for colorectal cancer. We then delineated GT RSV data for the term colon cancer for states and metropolitan areas in the United States and determined how the RSV values for these regions correlated with the percentage of Black Americans in that region. Differences in these correlations before and after Boseman’s death were compared to determine whether there was a shift in the racial demographics of the individuals conducting the searches.


Results: The observed RSVs for the topics colorectal cancer and colon cancer screening increased by 598% and 707%, respectively, and were on average 121% (95% CI 72%-193%) and 256% (95% CI 35%-814%) greater than expected during the first 3 months following Boseman’s death. Daily Wikipedia page view volume during the 2 months following Boseman’s death was on average 1979% (95% CI 1375%-2894%) greater than expected, and it was estimated that this represented 547,354 (95% CI 497,708-585,167) excess Wikipedia page views. Before Boseman’s death, there were negative correlations between the percentage of Black Americans living in a state or metropolitan area and the RSV for colon cancer in that area (r=−0.18 and r=−0.05, respectively). However, in the 2 weeks following his death, there were positive correlations between the RSV for colon cancer and the percentage of Black Americans per state and per metropolitan area (r=0.73 and r=0.33, respectively). These changes persisted for 4 months and were all statistically significant (P<.001).


Conclusions: There was a significant increase in web-based activity related to colon cancer following Chadwick Boseman’s death, particularly in areas with a higher proportion of Black Americans. This reflects a heightened public awareness that can be leveraged to further educate the public.

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