#BCSM and #breastcancer: Contemporary cancer-specific online social media communities


Session type:

James Platt1,Richard Brady2
1Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust,2Newcastle Centre for Bowel Disease Research Group, Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Newcastle University, UK



Improved breast cancer survival has placed greater focus on survivorship. However, there are several barriers which limit information provision and support of this growing patient population. Online communities represent a viable and attractive means of overcoming these barriers to communicate with breast cancer patients, clinical professionals, and the general population.

Social media is a growing worldwide phenomenon, where disease-related communities have been established using hashtags such as #colorectalsurgery and #plasticsurgery. #BCSM has fostered an online community for breast cancer patients and has been shown to improve knowledge and alleviate anxiety. Our investigation into the #BCSM and #breastcancer communities provides insight into authorship and engagement, which will allow us to enhance social media communication for patient wellbeing.


The online analytical tool CREATION Pinpoint allowed quantification of Twitter impressions and mentions for the hashtags #BCSM and #breastcancer over 473 days. Data was also collected on author gender, location and occupation, and popular topics or phrases.


The hashtags #BCSM and #breastcancer generated over 350 million and 750 million Twitter impressions, respectively. Peaks in impression number were seen around major academic meetings and news releases. There were similar numbers of male and female authors for each of the hashtags. Most authors were healthcare professionals, but over a third of authors came from non-healthcare or research backgrounds. The majority of Twitter mentions originated in developed countries, most commonly the USA. There was little engagement with the communities in many developing countries, in particular those within Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia.


This report illustrates active communities united by breast cancer-specific hashtags, which comprise a mix of healthcare professionals, scientific researchers and members of the public. Our improved understanding of the use of these communities will allow us to further develop communication through social media, to ultimately optimise patient care and wellbeing.