Monday, October 02, 2006

Breast neoplasms

I had a college anatomy student come to the desk asking for information on breast cancer. I asked her if she could give me some more specific search terms that I could use to limit the search. She struggled a bit, so I asked her if she was interested in review articles that would give her an overview of the research in an area of breast cancer, but no she wanted specific studies.

This should be easy, I thought. So I went to Medline and typed in breast cancer, the correct MeSH heading of which is “breast neoplasm”, and got 143,000 hits. I typed in etiology and epidemiology, which were two more terms she thought of. This narrowed the results to 12, of which the first couple seemed to have nothing to do with breast cancer, just epidemiology. The other results were fairly old.

So I backed up and tried again. This time I put the limits etiology and epidemiology into the subheadings of breast neoplasms. After I limited it to humans and English language, I had 11, 618 results. I couldn’t think of any other way to reduce the number of results, and so ended up browsing through the results until we found one she felt would be suitable.

Any suggestions about how I could have constructed a better search using the terms she gave me?


Blogger Valeria said...

I can't think of any better search terms. The topic is broad, so it makes sense to retrieve so many items. This seems like on of those cases in which the librarian has to help the user figure out what she wants. She doesn’t just want info on "breast cancer", she probably wants something more specific but doesn't know how to phrase it.

7:38 p.m.  
Blogger Dean Giustini said...


One of the "fun" things I do is search MEDLINE for numbers of articles for topics of interest:

"neoplasms"[MeSH] = 1,785,842 hits

That is 1/10th of the database.

Searching for "breast neoplasms"[MeSH] = 136,467

That's excellent recall, and reflects the amount of research being done on this human disease.

You didn't say whether the anatomy student wanted primary, secondary or tertiary research. Or, just a few good articles on breast cancer......


9:07 p.m.  
Blogger PubMed Junkie said...

She didn't give the impression that she was really sure herself. It was a group presentation and she was doing etiology and epidemiology.

She said she wanted specific articles, but didn't seem to understand the technical ones that I found.

I think Valeria is right when she says the student didn't know how to phrase what she wanted.

9:54 p.m.  
Blogger Dean Giustini said...


Sounds like you did what was required: assessed her information request, asked her for clarification, and then showed her what you thought was helpful.

Sometimes, if it's a clinical person and not a student, I'd show them MDConsult or an aggregated tool like books@OVID. Dean

10:21 p.m.  
Blogger nancy said...

A simple suggestion - but what about limiting the publication date, given this is an ever changing field?

3:56 p.m.  
Blogger Chris B. IHSLA President said...

How about a chapter from a book?

Cancer Medicine Frei Holland or

Cancer Devitta

1:34 p.m.  

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