I bet that you’ve never heard of mesothelioma, somehow. It’s a big, fancy medical word for a rare form of cancer in which malignant (cancerous) cells are found in the mesothelium, a protective sac that covers most of the body’s internal organs. Most people who develop mesothelioma have worked on jobs where they inhaled asbestos particles.
Can you see the lawyer bait in that description? Those last few words… worked on jobs where they inhaled asbestos particles. The legal profession immediately snapped to attention and started circling like vultures, visions of millions or even billions in punitive lawsuits against employers and, presumably, asbestos manufacturers dancing in their heads. All they need are patients, victims of this horrible disease.
And so is it any wonder that the keyword mesothelioma, along with words like cancer and asbestos are some of the hottest at Google, Yahoo’s Overture and other pay-per-click online advertising venues? The opportunism surrounding mesothelioma is really astonishing.
For example, Google “cervical cancer” and it shows an impressive 1.73 million matches. Cervical cancer is rather common, though. Another common cancer is colon cancer, and that yields 2.63 million matches. Again, not a surprise. But you research mesothelioma, and you find out that, according to the National Institutes of Health:
“How common is mesothelioma?
Although reported incidence rates have increased in the past 20 years, mesothelioma is still a relatively rare cancer. About 2,000 new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed in the United States each year. Mesothelioma occurs more often in men than in women and risk increases with age, but this disease can appear in either men or women at any age.”
Want to make a guess at how many matches Google shows when you search for mesothelioma? There are about 138,000 new cases of colon cancer diagnosed each year in the United States, and about 11,000 cases of cervical cancer will be diagnosed (the most common cancer? Lung cancer — no surprise — which is implicated in about 440,000 people each year). By contrast, three are about 2,000 cases of mesothelioma. Not so many.
But Google shows a phenomenal 5.56 million hits when you search for that word. 5.56 million!
Do you think that those sites exist to help these 2,000 people a year learn more about this horrible disease, learn about treatment options, symptoms and pain management techniques? You know as well as I do that if there are lawyers circling for class action lawsuits and similar, that they’re all simultaneously competing for leads on Google and other sites and they’re bidding up the keyword mesothelioma like mad. Like, to the point where it would cost you over $100/click for your ad associated with this keyword to be the #1 match on a Google search.
So these 5.56 million sites are just like leeches on a wound. These poor workers who inhaled too much asbestos and ended up with this disease not only have lawyers chasing after them (and I’ve seen TV ads for law firms advertising that they’ll prosecute mesothelioma cases too), but there are millions of sites out there too, offering dubious information (if any), and all just capitalizing on this disease.
Is this the future of online information dissemination? The most attention to the highest bidder? I hope not.
And if you would like to learn more about mesothelioma, the National Institutes of Health have a very nice Mesothelioma: Questions & Answers page that’s a good place to start.