Radiation Oncology Tag Ontology: Collaborative Design Integrating Hashtags Across Cancer Care

In the five years since the patient-centered Cancer Tag Ontology (CTO) came into being, conversations about cancer on Twitter continue to grow. The Oncology Tag Ontology (OTO) was posted on Symplur in 2014 for providers and was broad rather than being specialty-specific. The CTO tags were first published in 2016 and are updated. Together, these tags have been used over 2 million times on Twitter.

Radiation oncology is part of clinical oncology in many parts of the world and a cornerstone of cancer care: curing cancer, preserving organ function, and alleviating suffering. In the past four years an increasingly robust online community has developed around the hashtag #radonc. There is now an active and large number of health professionals eager to talk online about how to improve cancer care.  However, with numbers comes noise. To improve the signal, we wanted to develop structured tags that both fit the specialty and the goals of the previous tag ontologies: 

  • To organize health content online, making it easier to find reliable information
  • To facilitate community building, catalyzing further improvements in cancer care
  • To provide a common language, encouraging discussion on key topics  

Inspired by the Urology Tag Ontology, we mixed use of established areas of research and clinical practice in radiation oncology with informal surveys and crowdsourcing to create the Radiation Oncology Tag Ontology. This is a structured collection rather than a true ontology, which is a more hierarchical system following consistent rules for categorization (e.g. the Dewey Decimal System). Also, rather than make tags redundant, we cross-referenced both the CTO and OTO to keep the list of tags short and relevant, but intertwined with existing hashtags already in use. 

We will be sharing these tags formally in academic meetings and peer-reviewed publications. Hopefully, sharing will lead to further improvements in organizing cancer care conversations in a productive way. What suggestions do you have?


See the Radiation Oncology Tag Ontology.


Matthew Katz, MD
Department of Radiation Medicine
Lowell General Hospital, Lowell, MA


Ian Pereira, MD
Department of Radiation Oncology
Queen’s University, Kingston, ON, Canada


Nicholas Zaorsky, MD
Assistant Professor, Department of Radiation Oncology
PennState Cancer Institute, Hershey, PA

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