Twitter Hashtag Provides Insights for Physicians, Support for People with Breast Cancer

November 6th 2020
Jill Murphy, Assistant Editor
Jill Murphy, Assistant Editor

A UCLA-led review of 9 years of social media posts with the hashtag #BCSM suggests that Twitter can be a useful resource for patients, physicians and researchers

A University of California, Los Angeles-led review of 9 years of social media posts with the hashtag #BCSM suggests that Twitter can be a useful resource not only for patients, but also for physicians and researchers, according to a press release.

The hashtag, an acronym for “breast cancer social media,” first appeared on Twitter in 2011 and was used to curate a weekly informational chat for people with breast cancer.

The research found that between January 1, 2011, and January 1, 2020, #BCSM was used more than 830,000 times by more than 75,000 unique Twitter accounts, generating 4 billion impressions. Further, the hashtag was used 145,600 times in 2019 alone, an increase of 424% from 2011 when it appeared 27,700 times.

The study was intended to help researchers understand the impact of the community that grew around the Twitter chat. The results revealed that the rise of social media in everyday life paralleled with the growing popularity of #BCSM demonstrated that an increasing number of people with breast cancer are turning to online communities for support and education, according to the study.

“The #BCSM online community has experienced tremendous growth since its inception because it has helped fulfill a need among patients who were searching for information and support on the platform,” said lead study author Deanna Attai, MD, assistant clinical professor of surgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, in a press release.

Attai added that it has helped physicians gain insight into the patient perspective and has given them a better understanding of their many issues.

“We often see patients in a much different setting. Compared to our exam room interactions, online is a more raw, unvarnished look into what patients are really going through,” Attai said.

The #BCSM platform has given health care professionals the opportunity to correct misconceptions, provide guidance to people with breast cancer, and steer them toward credible resources, according to the study. Using Symplur, a health care-focused analytics program commonly used to study trends on Twitter, data were compiled on the use of the hashtag.

The study noted that the inclusive nature of the #BCSM hashtag has contributed to its popularity, since it is not restricted by gender or people’s stage of diagnosis. However, its extent may limit how sustainable the online community will be. As cancer therapy becomes more personalized, people may increasingly seek out support groups that are more closely aligned with their own clinical situations.

REFERENCE

How a Twitter hashtag provides insights for doctors and support for people with breast cancer. UCLA Newsroom. https://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/bcsm-twitter-breast-cancer-support. Published October 22, 2020. Accessed October 27, 2020.

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