Campus & Community

New Cancer Risk Website Logs Record-breaking Launch

4 min read

More than 13,000 visits were logged on to a new Website of the Harvard Center for Cancer Prevention within the first week of its launch in mid-January, making it the most successful site launched at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Your Cancer Risk, at, received 1 million hits on its first day and a total of 2.7 million hits in its first week. Site developers had expected the site to receive 35,000 hits in a week. The site, launched on Jan. 19, has yet to be registered with search engines.

“It’s a huge success,” said Deane Eastwood, Webmaster for the School of Public Health (SPH), who has overseen the launch of more than a dozen sites for the School. “It had as many unique visitors in its first week as the entire SPH site has in an average week.”

Your Cancer Risk logged about one-fourth the traffic as the main Harvard University Website, which receives about 50,000 visitors a week.

The site asks users to complete anonymous questionnaires to determine their risks of developing breast, prostate, colon, or lung cancer. Their risks are demonstrated with a bar graph that users can manipulate to see what factors can increase or decrease their susceptibility. The site teaches users where to focus prevention efforts and how to change lifestyle habits by providing personalized strategies. Visitors also receive fact sheets, explanations of the relationship between exposure and disease, and resources for more information.

“The site fills a perceived gap we saw on the Web,” said Graham Colditz, director of education at the Center, who developed the site with David Hunter, the Center’s director. Many cancer-related Websites offer a wealth of treatment information with little emphasis on prevention, Colditz said. “We wanted to get prevention methods out there.”

Your Cancer Risk received the most visits the day after its launch, spurred by media coverage in Harvard publications, in local news broadcasts, and as a hot site on USATODAY. com, and local news broadcasts. Traffic slowed two days following the launch, but the decrease may have resulted from general traffic problems on the Internet and not from waning interest in the site.

Most visitors were in the United States and 4 percent were Harvard users. The site states clearly that information applies to populations in the United States and other Western countries, but Colditz said he hopes to broaden the appeal.

The number of people who accessed the site from home encouraged administrators. Nearly 15 percent of the hits came from home networks, which may reflect the personal nature of the questionnaire. “It’s easy to speculate that people may feel more comfortable in the privacy of their own homes,” said Colditz.

Most users remained on the site for more than 11 minutes, which, according to Colditz, is a century in Internet time. “The fantastic piece of all of this is that people seem to be staying on the site,” said Colditz. “We’re meeting a need.”.

“We went beyond our greatest expectations in the first week.”

said Dana Jessup, communications coordinator for the Center. “We went beyond our greatest expectations in the first week.”

The next step, said Jessup, is to register the site with search engines and seed the Web with links to the site. She is working on a wish list of sites that she hopes will link to Your Cancer Risk. The list includes the Websites of the American Cancer Society, the Centers for Disease Control, and area hospitals.

“The challenge will be keeping the traffic high,” said Jessup, “and that means innovating the site.” While the four cancers included on the current site represent about one-half of the cancer burden in the United States, eight other cancers will be added to the site this June.

Colditz and Hunter plan to add risk assessments for ovarian, cervical, uterine, bl adder, kidney, stomach, pancreatic, and melanoma cancers. Once that is done, the assessments will estimate an individual’s risk of cancers that account for more than 80 percent of the cancer burden in the country.

Harvard Vanguard HMO is testing the site’s concepts to determine how they and others like them can be most effective. The evaluation is expected to be completed within the next few months and may be used to revise the Your Cancer Risk Website.