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Statistical research

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Research background: The medical writing group of a biotechnology pharmaceutical company is working on a manuscript for publication in a medical journal, and the writer wants to verify statistics before including them in the paper.

The company’s market research department has been contacted to supply that information.

The writers are interested in the answers to two questions: (1) How many men are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year? and (2) How many men currently have prostate cancer?

Research budget: These statistics are publicly available, so the online costs should be minimal. The market researcher estimates that it will take an hour or so of search time to find and verify the information.

Research strategy employed: Statistical information of this nature is usually found at governmental agencies, specialized societies, or associations.

A good starting place is association Web sites, and the researcher begins with the American Cancer Society (ACS) site (http://www.cancer.org), which includes a link for a report containing statistics from 1997 to 2002 (http://www.cancer.org/downloads/STT/CAFF2003PWSecured.pdf).

The 2003 figures, which are estimates, state that 220,900 cases will be diagnosed, and 28,900 men will die of prostate cancer in 2003. The reports does not say how many men currently have prostate cancer.

The report says that ACS gets its statistics from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) at its Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) division (http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/prostate.htm).

It also gets statistics from the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) Program at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) (http://seer.cancer.gov).

NCHS, NCI, and the SEER are three reputable sources for this type of statistic. The researcher will use these sources to verify the information found at the ACS Web site.

Another alternative is to perform a simple search using a search engine and the phrase cancer statistics.

By reviewing the results, the researcher can identify key associations and government research sites to turn to for specifics, including ACS and SEER. One might wonder why the researcher does not use a more specific search to go straight to the statistics by using the search term prostate cancer statistics.

The answer is that although this will retrieve results from many sites, they will be redundant – often portions from the same main source.

In the long run this approach is time consuming, and it is best to go directly to the source. A search on cancer statistics brings up the ACS and SEER sites (see links above).

Research results: The researcher finds a cancer statistics section on the SEER home page.

The relevant categories are Finding Cancer statistics; Statistical Tables, Graphs, and Maps; and Using Fast Stats.

There is also a Fast Stats pull-down menu on the upper right-hand side of the home page that allows one to designate a cancer site.

For expediency’s sake, the researcher decides to go with the Fast Stats pull-down menu and select Prostate.

This takes him to the Incidence: Prostate Cancer page, where a sidebar on the left-hand side lists the categories of statistics: Incidence, Mortality, Prevalence, and Probability of Developing or Dying of Cancer.

“Incidence” refers to the number of men who have been given a diagnosis of prostate cancer during a specific period.

“Prevalence” refers to the total number of men who have been given the diagnosis and are still living.

Selecting Prevalence on the sidebar takes the researcher to a page that offers a number of selections.

He clicks “View Complete Prevalence for a selected set of cancer sites.” The figures on this chart, from January 2000, say that 1,637,208 men then had prostate cancer.

The researcher then views incidence and prevalence figures for 1973-1999 by returning to the SEER main page and selecting Statistical Tables, Graphs, and Maps under the Cancer Statistics heading.

He then selects SEER Cancer Statistics Review (CSR). At the next page, SEER Cancer Statistics Review, 1975 – 2000, he selects Contents of the CSR, 1975 – 2000.

On the following page, he selects Overview, which retrieves a PDF including incidence and mortality rates for 2003 on page 19.

According to this table, there will be an estimated 220,900 new cases and 28,900 deaths in 2003.

Performing a search at NCHS/CDC (http://www.cdc.gov/nchs) also provides a few statistics; the researcher clicks FASTATS A to Z on the sidebar and then selects P on the following page to find statistics on prostate disease.

Summary of solution: For this type of problem, government sites or nonprofit associations are an excellent place to search for statistics Performing a search on a search engine using cancer statistics will bring up the key associations and government sites.

In this case, the SEER site had incidence and prevalence statistics for 1975 to 2000. There were also incidence figures for 2003.

For more challenging incidence and prevalence questions, one might also check the Incidence and Prevalence database from Timely Data (http://www.tdrdata.com) or via Dialog File 465.

Useful tips
• For free statistical information, search for appropriate government or association sites.

• Take time to view and understand the variety of ways statistics are presented at each site.

• If the subject is unfamiliar to you, overview information and definition will help.

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