The Intersection of Cancer Research and Twitter: a Groundbreaking Opportunity

At the National Cancer Institute (NCI), we see first hand every day how people in the cancer community have relied upon social media to gather and share information—as well as to support one another. As an institution, we have nearly 30 Twitter accounts.  We know that Twitter is one of the most powerful tools for communicating the latest information about cancer research, including advances in prevention, diagnosis and treatment.


The documentary: Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies

While the use of social media is prevalent and growing, television is has a broad reach when it comes to communicating information.  We at the NCI are excited about the upcoming three-night PBS documentary based upon Siddhartha Mukherjee’s 2010 Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, which will air on March 30, 31 and April 1 (check your local PBS listings here).   We are excited to get Americans interested in and talking about cancer and cancer research.


Combining Twitter and television – collaborative, expert live tweeting

Combining the community aspect of social media and the reach of television, the NCI, 12 cancer centers and two cancer advocacy groups will be carrying out a live tweeting event during all three nights of Emperor.  As you watch the show and have a computer or tablet in front of you, follow the #CancerFilm hashtag on Twitter and you’ll see that often when a topic is mentioned during the film, one of our experts and others will tweet about it – in real time.

Have a question about what an oncogene is?  You’ll see an answer when it is mentioned via the #CancerFilm hashtag. It’s that simple.

Bill Greider, the Social Media Engagement Officer at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute told us:

“A collaborative effort like this one on Twitter allows us to push the normal boundaries of interest and discussion on a particular topic, in this case cancer.”

And it’s true. The film, combined with live tweeting, is a unique opportunity for patients, caregivers, oncologists, advocates and others to connect and converse while sharing the experience of watching the movie. Elisa Williams, the Associate Director of Communications, Knight Cancer Institute at Oregon Health & Science University, said:
“No one person or institution has all the answers about a disease that has touched each one of us so personally. A wonderful outcome of Ken Burns’ documentary would be the start of many conversations that help speed progress against the disease.”

That’s why we are excited that so many institutions and groups have come together with NCI to offer accurate and up-to-date cancer information in real time, during a once-in-a-lifetime documentary.

If you can’t be on Twitter while watching the movie, you can still follow the conversation the next day and in the days to come via the #CancerFilm hashtag. The most compelling tweets will be shared widely and will linger in the Twitterverse.


The future of cancer research:  Twitter chat on immunotherapy

Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies offers a compelling, detailed narrative about the past and present of cancer research and treatment. On April 2, 2015 from 1:00-2:00pm, a panel of distinguished scientists and cancer advocates will join together in a Twitter chat to discuss a relatively new form of treatment that has shown promise in the last few years, immunotherapy. This approach harnesses the body’s immune system to fight cancer.

One of our chat participants, Dr. Benjamin Neel, MD, PhD, director of the Laura and Isaac Perlmutter Cancer Center at NYU Langone:

“I’m looking forward to participating in the NCI’s Twitter chat on immunotherapy.  It will allow us to build further on what we learn from Emperor of All Maladies and focus on immunotherapy’s critically important role in the battle against cancer.”

To be part of the chat, simply follow the #CancerFilm hashtag on April 2 from 1:00-2:00 ET. You’ll learn from the panel of experts and can ask them questions.

Finally, we at the NCI, the nation’s leader in cancer research, are proud to lead these social media events. NCI and NCI-supported scientists helped to bring many of the scientific advances portrayed in the film from the laboratory to the clinic. We continue to fund the basic science that can bring future breakthroughs. Using social media to enhance the conversations about cancer, NCI, our partner cancer centers and advocates will break new ground at the intersection of television, Twitter, and online community building.

Peter Garrett

Peter Garrett - @garbob2

Peter Garrett, Senior Advisor to the Director, National Cancer Institute

3 Responses to “The Intersection of Cancer Research and Twitter: a Groundbreaking Opportunity”

  1. Anjelika

    Great to see that a conversation will take place online in conjunction with the PBS TV series to allow viewers a place to share reactions, ask questions, and seek out resources. Thank you!

  2. Sally James

    Wondering what your goals are, Peter, for the patient engagement. Would love to interview you by phone after Monday evening live tweeting. The many chat groups – #hcsm, #bcsm, #lcsm – are typically existing patients. What are you hoping to hear?

  3. Sarah Aumann

    I found so many resources and articles during the twitter conversation about #cancerfilm and immunotherapy My son is starting Yervoy in a couple of weeks, and a second drug as well I feel so much more informed now. Please do it again! Thank you all


Leave a Reply