Oncologists educating oncologists: 5 social media accounts worth watching

By Joe Hannan | Fact-checked by Barbara Bekiesz
Published April 21, 2022

Key Takeaways

  • For oncologists, social media is an opportunity to exchange ideas with peers and to see what is top-of-mind for patients with cancer.

  • Twitter remains a fruitful platform for oncologists looking to keep pace with new research, as well as with conference proceedings and peer-to-peer conversations. 

  • Those who want to get the most out of social media can mimic the strategies of these social-media savvy oncologists.

It began as a hashtag, but it soon became a new way of communicating about cancer care, research, and patient education. As a JCO Oncology Practice editorial explains, tech-savvy oncologists coalesced around the hashtag #bcsm to discuss breast cancer in 2011. This first gathering blossomed into weekly tweet chats that explored other topics, and those chats laid the foundation for best social media practices for the profession.[]

It also catalyzed the growth of the Collaboration for Outcomes using Social Media in Oncology (COSMO) in 2015, which hosted its inaugural meeting in 2021.[] The rise of COSMO highlights the transformative potential of social media in oncology. For oncologists wondering where to begin, there are numerous examples of others who are leading by example, educating peers and educating patients. Here are five worth tuning in to.

Deanna J. Attai, MD

It’s impossible to talk about COSMO without talking about Deanna Attai, MD. Attai was one of those first technologically inclined oncologists who saw the potential of social media. She currently co-chairs COSMO’s research group and is the social media editor for the Annals of Surgical Oncology. Attai continues to moderate the weekly #bcsm twitter chat, just as she did at its inception in 2011.

Attai’s Twitter profile, which has amassed nearly 18,000 followers, is a must-follow for any oncologist looking to explore social media. 

There you’ll find a well-curated overview of patient advocacy, the latest research, and conference highlights. Check out #aestheticflatclosure for pearls from Attai’s presentation at the 23rd Annual Meeting of the American Society of Breast Surgeons (#ASBrS22). 

Attai’s Instagram page is also a treat, featuring her beautiful garden and updates on her cat’s antics.

Related: How clinicians can counteract medical misinformation

Don S. Dizon, MD

Don S. Dizon, MD, embodies both style and substance. Like Attai, Dizon is inseparable from COSMO’s history, ranking among the group’s founders. In addition to his role with COSMO, Dizon is a section editor at UpToDate and an associate editor at The Oncologist.

Dizon’s versatility translates to his social media platforms. He uses Twitter to disseminate the latest research in oncology as well as confront dis- and misinformation that have proliferated throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. 

On TikTok, Dizon offers moving patient stories and reflections on lessons learned from his work. On Instagram, you’ll find his vibrant sartorial takes and travel adventures.

Katie Deming, MD

Katie Deming, MD, has an impressive list of credentials. A former semi-pro triathlete, Deming is also a radiation oncologist, inventor, and soon-to-be TEDx speaker

In addition, she founded MAKEMERRY, a bra company that caters to patients who are undergoing radiation therapy. 

The bras are made of extra-soft fabric that is forgiving against sensitive skin, fulfilling an unmet need she saw firsthand. Deming began by modifying existing bras to make patients more comfortable, and then she scaled up to form the company.

You’ll find a wide array of insights from Deming on her Instagram page. On the patient-education front, she creates posts such as this one, which explains the benefits of exercise during cancer treatment. 

Deming also offers windows into her evolving practice—which you can read about in this post—and she posts about the elusive physician work-life balance (having a cute dog really helps).

Related: TikTok: A tool for physicians, or a risk to professionalism?

Fumiko Ladd Chino, MD

If you want to get a sense of how much power can be packed into a single tweet, check out this one from Fumiko Ladd Chino, MD. Chino is a radiation oncologist who has amassed nearly 10,000 followers with her Twitter account.

She uses her account to highlight research on #financialtoxicity—the financial distress attached to cancer treatment. This thread is an example of how Chino calls attention to the issue itself, as well as the research behind it. 

Chino also knows that social media, at its best, is not pure self-promotion. She frequently uses her profile to elevate colleagues, featuring their research and accomplishments. She shows how it’s done in this tweet, as well as this one

Azra Raza, MD

Azra Raza, MD, is an oncologist, researcher, and author. Her book, The First Cell: And the Human Costs of Pursuing Cancer to the Last, is a critique of cancer care that includes accounts of how she handled being her own husband’s oncologist after he was diagnosed with leukemia.

Raza’s Twitter account is a nuanced view of what’s happening in the world of cancer research. It’s also a window into the hypotheses of a cancer researcher. Take this tweet, for example, which draws a beautiful analogy, or this one, on the origins of cancer.  

Raza’s tweets are also a reminder that skepticism is essential in the research world. What some may call negativity, others might call rigor. Raza puts it more potently in her own words here.

Getting social

Eager to join the conversation? If you’re a complete social media beginner or you are wondering how to take a more professional approach, a 2022 article in Future Medicine offers some guidance. Dizon happens to be among the authors.[]

First, know what you want to get out of social media. The authors present four options with corresponding opportunities:

  • Patient learning: Join patient-centered conversations or follow patient advocates and advocacy groups.

  • Peer learning: Seek out journal clubs on social media or look for twitter chats, like #bcsm. Conferences are also good opportunities for peer learning. Find conference hashtags and use them to identify and follow thought-leaders.

  • Networking and collaboration: Look for clinicians who share your passions, personally and/or professionally. 

  • Build or promote a brand or practice: Amass followers who appreciate your views. This could translate to sponsorships or advertising opportunities.

Then proceed with caution. 

“Everything posted online should be considered permanent,” the authors wrote. “Posts are public and may be accessed by anyone, even if intended to be read by colleagues. As such, it is important to post thoughtfully and intentionally.”

One critical skill that the authors recommend is the use of restraint—especially if you find yourself being “trolled.”

As with email, tone on social media can be easily misinterpreted. 

If someone directs a comment toward you that appears to be antagonistic or unfair, that does not mean you must respond. There are some people on social media who just enjoy starting trouble. Fortunately, there’s an effective way to deal with them:

“Liberally use block, mute and privacy features when needed,” the authors wrote.

What this means for you

For oncologists, social media is an opportunity to engage with colleagues and patients. Peer-to-peer interactions can help you stay up-to-date on the latest research, highlight the work of your colleagues, or keep track of conference proceedings. Patient-centered accounts may support patient advocacy efforts. 

In all instances, think before you post. The internet is a permanent record.

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