Skip to Main Content

Using MeSH Terms For Searching

A guide for using Medical Subject Heading (MeSH) terms in PubMed and CINAHL.


There are two main ways to search for MeSH terms on PubMed. The first search method is to look at the MeSH terms from an already searched article while the second method is searching the MeSH thesaurus.

Using MeSH Terms From A Known Article

Step 1: Head to the PubMed database and put in your search terms for your initial search. I will be searching for Cancer related MeSH terms.

Screenshot of PubMed advanced search with cancer as the search term.

Step 2 : Once you conduct your search with your initial search terms it will bring you to a page of articles. Go ahead and select one that is relevant to your topic. I selected the first article.

Screenshot of Pubmed article listings for the search term "cancer".

Step 3: Once you’ve found an article that is related to your topic, you can scroll down to the bottom of the page where it says MeSH terms. Here you will see a list of tagged MeSH terms. For this particular example, notice that instead of the word “cancer,” the MeSH term is “neoplasms.”

Screenshot of MeSH terms for an article on "cancer. Blue box highlighting the neoplasm terms.

Step 4: Clicking on a MeSH term gives us the option to view a list of actions. If you select “search in PubMed” this action allows you to add the MeSH term to your current search box. If you select “Search In MeSH” this will search the term both in MeSH and as text.

Screenshot of a box showing the list of actions PubMed gives you when you select a MeSH term.  

For instance the MeSH term I choose was Immunotherapy, so it searched:

"Immunotherapy"[MeSH Terms] OR Immunotherapy[Text Word]



Searching the MeSH Thesaurus

The second way to search MeSH terms is through the MeSH Thesaurus

Step 1: Head to the PubMed homepage. Click on Explore below the search box  and select MeSH Database.

Screenshot of PubMed's four options under their search box.

Step 2: From here it will take you to a new search page where you can input your search term.

Screenshot of "cancer" as a search term in the MeSh Thesaurus.

Step 3: Here it will take you to a page of suggested MeSH Terms.

Screenshot of the article listings for cancer using the MeSH thesaurus.

Step 4: Once you input your search term it will take you to a page that shows you the definition of the term, available subheadings, and other related search terms. Scroll down the page to see the entire list of suggestions.

Screenshot of the MeSH thesaurus page for the MeSH term Neoplasm.

Step 5: From here, you can find narrower or broader search terms using the MeSH hierarchy.

Screenshot of the MeSH categories listed in the MeSH hierarchy.

Created by Reina Kirkendall, 05/2022

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.