Despite the encouraging uptake of social media (specifically Twitter) in the oncology arena, there remains a paucity of literature examining the value and direct application of social media in oncology. Dr. Sedrak highlights several examples of gaps in knowledge:
- How is the participative online environment affecting public health and clinical care as it relates to cancer?
- Can we leverage it to effectively exchange meaningful information about a subject as complex as cancer?
- Can we harness it to influence cancer-related health behaviors and clinical outcomes
According to Dr. Sedrak, there are several ethical considerations regarding the privacy of data collected, including that research needs to occur in a way that is transparent to patients and consistent with their preference for privacy, research must have institutional review board oversight, and new techniques for anonymizing data from online sources can be utilized. However, there is a lack of standardized methods for collecting data and undertaking research:
- This is an incomplete, new, and evolving field of research
- There is a need for conceptual models and standard metrics on how to use social media to study human behavior
- New approaches are needed, including descriptive procedures (capturing the digital footprints) and intervention procedures (leveraging the impact on an outcome)
- Social media represents an exciting frontier in cancer research, but it is still in an early, proof-of-concept stage
- There are many potentials for social media to provide new scientific insight into how social processes affect health behaviors
- Challenges do exist and must be addressed
- Further work is needed to examine how best to study social media and develop innovative methods that promote ethical, accurate, and meaningful findings in the field
Written by: Zachary Klaassen, MD, Urologic Oncology Fellow, University of Toronto, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, Twitter: @zklaassen_md at the 2018 ASCO Annual Meeting - June 1-5, 2018 – Chicago, IL USA