In recent years, Twitter has become a powerful — and increasingly popular — channel for conducting conversations about cancer among patients, physicians, and institutions. Research has shown, for example, that the use of the social media platform during oncology conferences has risen considerably.1 Studies have also looked at how patients, patient advocates, and caregivers have used Twitter as a source of information and a means of support.
As part of these research efforts, investigators have mined Twitter for content related to lung, breast, prostate, and kidney cancer. In a study published in March 2019 in JCO Clinical Cancer Informatics, researchers examined the authorship and content of 2097 tweets that included the term “kidney cancer” and were sent between August 1, 2017, and August 22, 2017.2 After collecting the tweets, the researchers divided the tweet content into categories by topic: support, treatment, general information, clinical trials, diagnosis, donation, and prevention.
Based on information included in Twitter bios, the authors also established 3 categories of authorship: individuals, such as patients, health professionals, and advocates; organizations, including pharmaceutical companies and professional organizations; and media, including news outlets and blogs.
Of all the tweets, 858 (41.4%) were authored by individuals, 865 (41.2%) were authored by organizations, and 364 (17.4%) were authored by media. The most common content discussed in the tweets were support (29.3%) and treatment (26.5%).
Of all the tweets, 825 were unique tweets and 1272 were retweets. Interestingly, the most common unique tweets were about clinical trials (23.9%) and usually originated from media companies. Retweets, seen mostly from organizations, typically discussed treatment (38.5%).
When the researchers looked at the relationship between authorship and tweet content, they found that individuals authored the vast majority of tweets discussing support (88.9%), organizations authored most of the messages related to treatment (86.3%), and media authored the largest proportion (45.7%) of tweets related to clinical trials.