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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Cancer patients on Twitter: a novel patient community on social media

Yuya Sugawara1, Hiroto Narimatsu23*, Atsushi Hozawa3, Li Shao3, Katsumi Otani3 and Akira Fukao23

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Medical Informatics, Graduate School of Medical Science, Yamagata University, Yamagata, Japan

2 Advanced Molecular Epidemiology Research Institute, Faculty of Medicine, Yamagata University, Yamagata, Japan

3 Department of Public Health, Yamagata University Graduate School of Medicine, Yamagata, Japan

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BMC Research Notes 2012, 5:699  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-5-699

Published: 27 December 2012



Patients increasingly turn to the Internet for information on medical conditions, including clinical news and treatment options. In recent years, an online patient community has arisen alongside the rapidly expanding world of social media, or “Web 2.0.” Twitter provides real-time dissemination of news, information, personal accounts and other details via a highly interactive form of social media, and has become an important online tool for patients. This medium is now considered to play an important role in the modern social community of online, “wired” cancer patients.


Fifty-one highly influential “power accounts” belonging to cancer patients were extracted from a dataset of 731 Twitter accounts with cancer terminology in their profiles. In accordance with previously established methodology, “power accounts” were defined as those Twitter accounts with 500 or more followers. We extracted data on the cancer patient (female) with the most followers to study the specific relationships that existed between the user and her followers, and found that the majority of the examined tweets focused on greetings, treatment discussions, and other instances of psychological support. These findings went against our hypothesis that cancer patients’ tweets would be centered on the dissemination of medical information and similar “newsy” details.


At present, there exists a rapidly evolving network of cancer patients engaged in information exchange via Twitter. This network is valuable in the sharing of psychological support among the cancer community.

Breast cancer; Breast neoplasms; Internet; Leukemia; Social media; Twitter messaging; Web 2.0